There hasn’t been many comfortable watches among Warriors games in 2023 – they’ve generally been tense, gripping affairs – but their 24-12 defeat of the Bulldogs to snap a three-game losing streak heading into the bye always felt in hand.
A clinical, classy and physically dominant first half set up a commanding 18-0 lead at the break. The Warriors didn’t quite go on with it and a more energised Bulldogs side finally hit the scoreboard early in the second stanza, without ever genuinely threatening to run the visitors down.
Recalled five-eighth Ronald Volkman effectively sealed it with a solo effort with 14 minutes to go and the Warriors improved to 6-5 and (for now, at least) climbing back into the Top 8. It was a long way from perfect – particularly on attack – and well short of their best efforts of their 2023 renaissance, but it was a composed and gritty performance overall that sets Andrew Webster’s side up for a mid-season surge.
1 CHARNZE NICOLL-KLOKSTAD: Classic, solid CNK. Gobbled up Burton’s bombs, cleaned up superbly all night and led the team with 182 metres from 21 runs. A huge part of the win. 8
2 DALLIN WATENE-ZELENIAK: Latching onto SJ’s crossfield kick to score was the highlight and ran hard for 152 metres on 17 carries. Missed five tackles and came up with a dusty kick when he probably should’ve pinned it for the corner, but decent showing. 6.5
3 ROCCO BERRY: Sound return to the NRL without being outstanding. Looked dangerous on a couple of occasions but never looked particularly in sync on the right edge with Johnson. Eighteen tackles and looked good in that department. A modest seven runs for 56 metres. 6
4 ADAM POMPEY: Some strong carries out of trouble and a huge intercept play and long run that led to the Warriors’ third try, finishing with 144 metres. Also a couple of handling errors and had a few issues with Jake Averillo and was brushed off by Okunbor for the Bulldogs’ late try, missing five tackles. 6
5 MARCELO MONTOYA: A few outstanding defusals of swirling Burton kicks and two line-breaks, including a long break in the second half on a kick return that saw him tally 177 metres on 17 runs. Also a couple of errors but won his battle with Jacob Kiraz and generally impressive against his old club. 7
6 RONALD VOLKMAN: Fairly uneventful return to the top flight for the most part but two great plays in the second half made it one to remember: an ad hoc kick ahead and tackle to keep the Bulldogs under the pump at their own end, and another kick-and-chase that produced a match-sealing solo try. Held up pretty well defensively with 19 tackles, though was involved in the Okunbor miss and had a couple of ruck infringements. Should stay there until Martin or Metcalf is ready. 6.5
7 SHAUN JOHNSON: One of the chief catalysts for a Warriors win yet again. Had the ball on a string, landing the first blow in an even start with a grubber for a line dropout then toed it through for Curran to score. Gutsy and pinpoint cross-field kick on the first for DWZ’s try…then tried a repeat in identical circumstances in the second half that missed the mark. Steered things brilliantly and defence (20 tackles), kick pressure was excellent and four-from-four off the tee. Should get more Dally M votes. 8
8 ADDIN FONUA-BLAKE: Another barnstorming effort from the marquee front-rower, chewing off 140 metres (78 post-contact) from 11 carries and running a great line to score a try for the second game in a row (and third in five games). Also racked up 32 tackles in 51 minutes, continuing a rich vein of form for the awakened giant. 8
14 FREDDY LUSSICK: Held down the fort nicely in a 20-minute opening stint and ultimately saw more game-time than Egan, looking good when re-injected in the second half. Six runs for 62 metres and 20 tackles. 7
10 BUNTY AFOA: Seven runs – most of which came during his 20-minute opening stint on attack near the Bulldogs’ line – for 57 metres and 21 tackles in 30 minutes. 6
11 JOSH CURRAN: Played the full 80 after getting the starting-team promotion and pounced for the first try, chalked up 10 runs for 88 metres, three tackle-breaks and a huge 44 tackles (with eight misses). Handy. 7
12 MARATA NIUKORE: Looked as dangerous as any Warriors running the ball, consistently bending the line back running lines off Johnson and notching 84 metres from 11 carries. Made 23 tackles in 59 minutes. 7
13 TOHU HARRIS: Another monster captain’s knock, reeling off a game-high 48 tackles and was the leading metre-eating forward on the park with 162 metres on 20 carries. Busy in a ball-playing role with 12 passes. 8
9 WAYDE EGAN: Reverted to a bench start and played only 37 minutes without overly standing out. Made 21 tackles but had an unflattering role in the Bulldogs’ first try early in the second half. A minor injury concern to come out of the win. 6
15 DYLAN WALKER: More comfortable and effective back in his middle forward role, dishing up a delicious pass for AFB to score, making 11 runs and churning through 38 tackles, while only Johnson and the dummy-halves passed the ball more times than Walker (18). 7.5
17 TOM ALE: Probably the tyro’s most disappointing showing in a breakout season. Played only 22 minutes for four runs, 11 tackles and a bad miss in Edwards’ try. 5
18 BAYLEY SIRONEN: Contributed three runs and 12 tackles in 26 minutes on the park, but did appear to make a bit of an impact with his limited involvements. 6