Can you believe what you’ve just seen? Because I fucken can’t.
As if not content with wowing the NRL and endearing their fanbase with a newfound resilience and defensive resolve under Andrew Webster, the Warriors have produced a revival for the ages to win a high-scoring, dramatic shootout with a top-four outfit – ultimately prevailing 32-30 over Cronulla via an ice-cool Shaun Johnson goal in the dying seconds from a highly contentious penalty.
Statistically it was one point shy off their biggest-ever comeback (versus Canberra in 2021), but quality- and adversity-wise – and recency bias notwithstanding – it has to be nudging the mantle for the Warriors’ greatest of all time.
— NRL (@NRL) April 2, 2023
The first quarter of the match was a training run for the Sharks, capitalising on another sloppy Warriors start to race out to 20-0 in even time. But the under-siege visitors dug in, found their way over for a couple of tries and trailed 26-12 at halftime after enjoying less than 40 percent of territory and possession…with the kicker of having Marata Niukore farcically sin-binned for a supposed hip-drop tackle seconds before the break.
But the Warriors came flying out of the blocks early in the first half, scoring despite being a man short when Shaun Johnson regathered motor-mouthed Ronaldo Mulitalo’s fumble of his bomb and raced away. Ed Kosi crossed in the 51st minute to peg back more points in the individual battle with Mulitalo after an unhappy first half, reducing the deficit to just two points.
Mulitalo responded in the 55th minute to give the Sharks a converted-try buffer, but again the Warriors braced themselves for the arm-wrestle and waited patiently for their opportunity – which Mulitalo provided with another high-ball drop.
After a period of sustained pressure, Josh Curran steamed onto a Johnson pass for the 67th-minute leveller.
The rain started pelting down in the last 10 minutes to add another layer of drama, which went up another gear when Cronulla captain Dale Finucane was dubiously – but, given the fate that had befallen Niukore, justifiably – binned for a hip-drop.
The roller coaster was only just getting into top gear. Johnson missed touch from the resultant penalty. Through Nicho Hynes, the Sharks started opening up chances of fringes and only some superb scramble and calm under the high ball saved the Warriors. Then a loose pass from the hosts, a Curran toe-through and a frantic contest for the pill on the greasy surface…and a sketchy as penalty to the Warriors for an alleged push on Curran.
Johnson drilled the goal from 36 metres out with less than 30 seconds left – but we were still far from finished. A short dropout, the slightest of knock-ons in the contest from the Warriors and an offside penalty against Johnson. But Hynes couldn’t land the long-range sideline attempt to send it into golden point, thus clinching one of the Warriors’ most remarkable victories and another euphoric chapter in Webster’s early reign.
Someone check on Fonzie, because the game stats totally defied the final scoreline to an extent that may have melted his brain. With 54 percent of the ball, the Sharks racked up 1,719 run metres to the Warriors’ 1,243, and were outstripped in the metres per carry count 9.66 to 8.46 and the average set distance 39.99 metres to 31.09.
Man, that’s a buzz you can only get after investing in a team through tough years. Up the fucking Warriors. There’s no fluke happening with this mob.
— Fonzie (@fonzieswarriors) April 2, 2023
I’m so fucking proud of this team.
— Nick Bewley (@nickbewley) April 2, 2023
Everything else was relatively even, so to still conjure a win like that against a quality team from 20 points down requires at least a few sublime individual performances.
They got it from gutsy fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who ran for a game-high 203 metres (65 post-contact) and frequently defused dicey situations near the goal-line, and the lionhearted Jazz Tevaga, who did sidelined skipper Tohu Harris’ starting spot proud with 17 runs for 152 metres (the only other Warrior besides CNK to make more than 100) and top the tackle count (alongside Jackson Ford) with 41 stops in 67 minutes of pure desire.
But again a rejuvenated Johnson was the catalyst. He kept the Warriors on the rails with his poise and rock-solid kicking game (save for the missed touch from the late penalty); was sensational in defence with 24 tackles; laid on vital tries for Niukore midway through the first half and Curran’s equaliser plus had a key hand in Kosi’s; scored one off his own bat; and kicked six-from-six – including a famous match-winner.
One of his finest hands and the continuation of a renaissance that not even his greatest apologists – of which the TWL crew are among the most fervent and vocal – could have envisioned.
How good from SJ! pic.twitter.com/MkSF2ITqBY
— The Warriorholic (@TheWarriorholic) April 2, 2023
It’s the collective belief and refusal to drop their bundle, though, that shone through. It wasn’t a classic Warriors fight-back where their enigmatic, mercurial brilliance becomes too hot to handle. They chipped away at the scoreboard imbalance by doing the one-percenters, putting their bodies on the line and keeping their cool.
There’s too much to unpack any more than that without a re-watch – and a win like that deserves to be revelled in without too much dissection.
So take a big swig of Mulitalo’s tears and drift off to sleep with a Kosi-esque smile on your face before strutting into work on Monday morning knowing that everyone who isn’t a Warriors supporter is missing the fuck out big-time right now.
Warriors 32 (Wayde Egan, Marata Niukore, Shaun Johnson, Ed Kosi, Josh Curran tries; Shaun Johnson 6 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 30 (Ronaldo Mulitalo 2, Teig Wilton, Sione Katoa, William Kennedy tries; Nicho Hynes 5 goals) at PointsBet Stadium, Sunday, April 2.