If the Warriors’ new era under Andrew Webster is to be built on resilience, the incoming coach will be ecstatic with his charges’ 20-12 victory over Newcastle in Wellington.
Just the ninth Round 1 victory in Warriors history, few have been more satisfying after a summer of inspirational talk from a new regime that would have felt a tad hollow with a defeat to a fellow 2022 bottom-four finisher.
The four-tries-to-two result was unquestionably more nerve-wracking than it could or should have been – the Warriors started both halves dreadfully and came so close to icing a swag of scoring chances that would have given them a double-digit break.
But it provided Webster and Warriors fans with an early opportunity to see the new-look team’s mental toughness and defensive commitment under the microscope with the game on the line.
A sustained period of heroic goal-line defence with 10 minutes left saved the game, before clear man-of-the-match Wayde Egan sealed it with a well-taken dummy-half try.
— NRL (@NRL) March 3, 2023
Warriors supporters have been subjected to some diabolical season starts, but it’s doubtful there’s been a worse opening two minutes in the club’s history.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad shelled a bomb at the end of the first set of the match, before rangy back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon isolated Shaun Johnson in defence and brushed him off to score.
— Hold The Ball (@HoldTheBallYT) March 3, 2023
A glut of penalties provided the Warriors with several opportunities to strike back, but their early attack was clunky as while Johnson and Te Maire Martin took some ordinary late-set options.
But the hosts gradually got on top in the arm-wrestle and the breakthrough came in the 25th minute. Tohu Harris put Mitch Barnett through a hole with a lovely short ball; the prop recruit failed to pass to an unmarked Johnson, but on the next play the veteran No.7 linked with Adam Pompey, who sent Ed Kosi over in the corner.
Their tails up, the Warriors hit the lead after a Johnson break set up by bench weapon Dylan Walker. Soon after, Bunty Afoa barged over under the posts for 10-6.
— Anton Posa (@antonposa) March 3, 2023
Further gilt-edged chances to go further ahead before the break went agonisingly awry but the Warriors were unmistakably on top.
The second stanza started nearly as poorly as the second with the Knights capitalising on repeat sets and cleverly creating an overlap down the Warriors’ right edge for Hymel Hunt to stroll in.
But the Warriors regrouped quickly. In the 51st minute, launching a raid from near halfway. Brayden Wiliame carved out a massive hole in the Newcastle defence and found Nicoll-Klokstad charging through on the inside.
CNK beat his opposing fullback to race away for his eighth try in as many NRL games for the Warriors.
Again the Warriors threatened to put the Knights to the sword as they started to dominate through the middle. Johnson and then Egan were held up over the line, with Phoenix Crossland sin-binned after the latter.
But the Warriors couldn’t find the killer punch and the Knights worked upfield for a long overdue crack on offence.
Nicoll-Klokstad produced an unbelievable try-saver on an increasingly dangerous Kalyn Ponga, who – fortuitously for the Warriors – went off immediately after for an HIA. Johnson, Pompey and Kosi also came up with magnificent defensive efforts to deny the Knights.
Wow CNK that try save! Rhys Walsh could never #NRLWarriorsKnights
— Stela (@shiningserpent_) March 3, 2023
The threat finally seen off, the Warriors got their chance to wrap it up when Te Maire Martin bundled Bradman Best into touch.
Brainy rake Egan capped a high-IQ game – arguably his best at NRL level – by picking his moment and darting over for the decisive try with six minutes left.
The performance was miles off what will be required to beat good teams and contend for the Top 8, but it was an ideal first-up statement. Aside from Egan, Tohu Harris was immense, recruits Jackson Ford, Wiliame, Martin, Walker and Nicoll-Klokstad had big games, Johnson’s up-and-down 80 minutes had some very positive aspects, Marcelo Montoya was insatiable for work and Kosi, who has received very little leeway on these pages in the past, had some huge moments in his best display in first grade.
both sides of the ball did pretty well. pic.twitter.com/tl7F7FhHcG
— simon griffin (@simongriifinjp) March 3, 2023
The Roosters in Sydney will present a very different, much harder challenge next Saturday. But with this hurdle out of the way, it’s one the Warriors will be up for.
Welcome, ‘Webby’ – we’re so glad you’re here.
UP THE WAHS!!!!!!!!!!
— Hold The Ball (@HoldTheBallYT) March 3, 2023
NRL 2023 – ROUND 1
Warriors 20 (Ed Kosi, Bunty Afoa, Charnze-Nicoll Klokstad, Wayde Egan tries; Shaun Johnson 2 goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 12 (Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Hymel Hunt tries; Jackson Hastings 2 goals) at Sky Stadium, Wellington.