Frustrating? Yep. A lost opportunity? Maybe. But we saw more of what the Warriors are about under the Andrew Webster regime – and what we can expect for the remainder of 2023 – in a frantic 20-12 loss to the Roosters in the Sydney heat than we did from from their win by the same scoreline over the Knights in Wellington.
The visitors did a marvellous job to restrict the halftime damage to 8-6 and still have a chance of levelling it up last in the face of the sweltering conditions, a raft of injuries, an avalanche of six-again calls, and the occasional brilliance of Roosters superstars Tedesco, Suaalii, Manu and Walker – and the fact that it will still be classified as a chance that slipped away is an encouraging step forward.
The Warriors lost Jackson Ford in the first couple of minutes, and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and the tireless Josh Curran exited for good during the second half. The Roosters weren’t without their setbacks, though, Brandon Smith playing just 27 minutes after coming off second-best in a collison with Marcelo Montoya.
Several Warriors lost ground on their stellar Round 1 status, but a collective defensive effort that every fan should – and Webster undoubtedly will – be proud of in what was, remarkably, only a three-tries-to-two defeat.
Meanwhile, after a typically up-and-down showing against Newcastle, Shaun Johnson produced his best performance in a Warriors jersey since 2018, playing a key hand in both tries, defending superbly and barely putting a foot wrong in a statement game. Unfortunately, the Warriors imploded on multiple occasions attacking the Roosters’ line after clawing back to 18-12 against the run of play with 17 minutes left.
— NRL (@NRL) March 11, 2023
An early error from Mitch Barnett and three straight six-again calls spelt early danger signs and a try for Jaxson Paulo from a routine right-side shit in the fourth minute.
Sam Walker kicked the conversion and a subsequent penalty for 8-0, but the Warriors looked sharp in their rare chances in good ball and came up trumps with a magnificent tirck play in the 24th minute.
Wayde Egan, Tohu Harris and Te Maire Martin combined to send Johnson steaming towards the try-line, and an offload from the halfback saw Egan crash over for the try. Staunch resolve without the ball in the face of a mountain of Roosters possession created a very satisfying halftime scoreboard.
Massive love to the @NZWarriors at half time. Heavy defence, didn’t give an inch after conceding an early try and playing to a good game plan by the looks
— Dai Henwood (@daihenwood) March 11, 2023
On their heels again early in the second stanza – a trend for all four halves of the Warriors’ 2023 season to date – the underdogs couldn’t stop Paulo powering in for his second in the 47th minute.
Treading water, the Warriors started to concede line breaks in their own half and after dodging a couple of bullets Roosters halfback Sam Walker backed up a Suaalii bust to score in the corner with 23 minutes left.
Down by 12 and down three players, the Warriors looked cooked and in damage-control mode. But a Johnson inside ball created space for Marata Niukore, who fired a wonderful pass for Addin Fonua-Blake to streak away for his third try for the club.
Love that. They looked cooked. Great character
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) March 11, 2023
Seemingly running downhill only minutes earlier, the Roosters began to wilt in the heat and coughed up pill coming out of the own end. But several opportunities to square up slipped infuriatingly through the Warriors’ hands.
No one was at dummy-half to accept Ed Kosi’s play-the-ball mid-set, Egan needed a quicker support player than activated 18th man Bayley Sironen when he made a break, and Walker booted the ball dead on the play following the latter bust before dropping it cold with his side hot on attack a few minutes later.
A 74th-minute Walker penalty gave the Roosters breathing space but didn’t stop the Warriors from throwing everything their fatigued bodies could into it until the dying moments.
The result may have been reversed, but ike last week, the biggest takeaways were the Warriors’ newfound defensive commitment, ability to ride out tough periods without leaking points and bouncing back quickly with points.
There’s certainly an elephant in the room, which was magnified by ex-Warriors pin-up Reece Walsh’s sizzling club debut for the Broncos: the Warriors lack X-factor. Johnson, Walker and Egan seemingly have a mortgage on the genuine game-breaking department in this team on the evidence so far – there’s not a great deal of something-out-of-nothing play emanating from this line-up.
But they’ll approach next week as another chance to prove themselves, rather than a daunting assignment. They’ve shown so far they have the tools defensively and in overall composure with any team in the comp, which puts them very much in the frame against a slightly misfiring Cowboys outfit in Townsville in Round 3.
Sydney Roosters 20 (Jaxson Paulo 2, Sam Walker tries; Walker 4 goals) defeated Warriors 12 (Wayde Egan, Addin Fonua-Blake tries; Shaun Johnson 2 goals) at Allianz Stadium, Sydney, on Saturday, 11 May, 2023.