It’s a mark of the progress this team has made in just 15 games under Andrew Webster that despite a host of ‘the first time the Warriors have done X since Y’ stats to come out of a 48-18 victory over St George Illawarra, there was a nagging feeling that they could have won by more.
The Warriors piled on points in flurries in both halves in Wollongong – three tries in six minutes during the first half, a three-try burst in eight minutes that started while they were a sin-binned player short midway through the second, and two tries in less than three minutes deep in the last quarter – with a sizzling four-try haul from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak hogging the limelight.
There were mistake-ridden patches and the odd defensive lapse, nor was it a blueprint for how the Warriors would need to play to do damage in September – but carving out such an emphatic win on the road was another key step in their evolution. Here’s some of the trainspotter numbers:
- Highest score and equal-biggest margin by the Warriors since a 50-16 victory over Newcastle in 2016.
- The first time since the above match the Warriors have scored nine tries in a game (last scored 10 in 2014).
- Highest score and biggest winning margin by the Warriors against St George Illawarra.
- First time the Warriors have scored 30+ points in three straight games since 2007.
- First time the Warriors have won three games by 20+ points since 2002.
- Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s four-try haul was just the eighth by a Warriors player and the first since David Fusitu’a in the aforementioned thrashing of the Knights in 2016.
- DWZ became the first Warriors player to notch a double-figure try tally in a season since 2019.
- The Warriors have already equalled their highest season win tally since 2018.
- The Warriors have won nine of their first 15 games for just the fifth time in their history.
Dallin’s swag of tries largely came courtesy (as well as his freakish diving finishes) of the magnificent work on the inside by Shaun Johnson and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who both surely put themselves in the frame for more Dally M points.
It would be hard to go past the winger for maximum points after he also produced a superb try assist and a game-high 211 metres. Addin Fonua-Blake may have something to saying about the allocation of the minor votes after another authoritative display up front that also featured a try assist.
Tohu Harris typically shone, while the likes of Jackson Ford, sin-binned Marata Niukore and Marcelo Montoya were consistently troubling the Saints – even if their performances had the odd blip.
The Warriors obliterated the Dragons yardage-wise and were ultimately just far too polished and potent inside the opposition 20-metre area.
— One NZ Warriors (@NZWarriors) June 23, 2023
The Warriors survived an early goal-line test after a Marcelo Montoya spill, but in the fourth minute they received their own chance and cashed in with training-run ease thanks to the increasingly potent combination between Shaun Johnson, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. The latter strolled in for his ninth try in as many games this season.
Another passage of slick hands put Montoya over in the 12th minute, but the Bunker took the try back due to an obstruction.
A third knock-on – this time a bad no-look pass from Wayde Egan the culprit – another set later opened the door for the Dragons’ first try, Tyrell Sloan skinning Adam Pompey on the outside and beating opposite number CNK.
The Warriors got back in front in the 26th minute when Johnson elected to run on the last, with Luke Metcalf firing out a long ball that was scooped off the ground by Montoya, who fended and bumped his way past two defenders to score.
That opened the floodgates.
A bit of fortune and a great captain’s challenge later, the Warriors went in again in the 30th minute thanks to a deft Johnson nudge through and a (slightly dubious) put-down from Bayley Sironen, who had come on for Egan (HIA).
At the end of their ensuing set, Dylan Walker climbed to take a Johnson bomb the Saints wanted nothing to do with and ex-Dragon Jackson Ford took it off him to charge over under the posts. In the space of six minutes, the Warriors had turned a 6-4 deficit into a 20-6 lead – an impressive scoreline they took into the break.
Nicoll-Klokstad, Addin Fonua-Blake, Marata Niukore and Tohu Harris all had 100-plus metres by halftime for a Warriors side that had enjoyed an eye-watering 61 percent possession and had chalked up 300 more metres than the Saints…yet there was a sense they were a touch lucky to have such a handy lead.
Great to be up by plenty, but that performance was bottom 8. I think it’s playing down to the opposition level, which can happen. Want to see us up the intensity in the second half.
— Fonzie (@fonzieswarriors) June 23, 2023
But Niukore undid much of his good work early in the second half with a high shot that earned a stint in the sin-bin for the second time is an many games.
Following a couple of repeat sets, the Dragons capitalised on their one-man advantage as Zane Musgrove crashed through uncharacteristically flimsy goal-line defence.
A magic ball from Adam Pompey to Metcalf put the shorthanded visitors on the attack, however, and Johnson’s ability to hold up the defence created another simple catch-and-pass chain that ended with DWZ diving in for his second – and becoming the first Warriors since 2019 to rack up a double-figure try tally.
Just after getting their full compliment back, the Warriors went in again with Fonua-Blake popping an offload for Johnson to zip in for his fourth try in three games.
The Warriors’ right side – with SJ and CNK featuring heavily – terrorised the Dragons again with 24 minutes to go, Dallin weaving through and providing a flick pass for Rocco Berry to plunge over for his first NRL try since August 2021.
The following 10 minutes were characterised by a string of Warriors errors, the last of which saw Francis Molo burgle the ball from Charnze under the posts to pull the scoreboard back to 36-18.
Soon after, though, the combo of Johnson, Nicoll-Klokstad and Berry paved the way for Watene-Zelezniak to produce his second trademark aerial finish in the corner and finish off his maiden NRL hat-trick.
The milestones kept coming for Dallin, equalling his career-best season tally (12) just two minutes later. Again it was SJ and CNK that engineered the overlap. Johnson’s third straight goal from out wide gave the Warriors their final 30-point winning margin.
This always loomed as a potential banana skin given the Ben Hunt saga and Dragons’ home advantage, occasional good form and bogey reputation for the Warriors. But despite being far from perfect, getting a genuine blowout win is another key box ticked for Webby’s Warriors.
That game reminded me of when my 5 year old plays my 2 year old in the backyard. Sure he wins, but he’s learning habits that won’t work when he’s running at 6 year olds. Second half was a great watch though 🔥
— Fonzie (@fonzieswarriors) June 23, 2023
It sets the scene beautifully for a home showdown next Friday with potentially depleted heavyweights Souths, a match that will give the Warriors a massive opportunity to consolidate their top-four claims.
Imagine thinking in March that that would be a realistic sentence to write heading into Round 18?
Warriors 48 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 4, Marcelo Montoya, Bayley Sironen, Jackson Ford, Shaun Johnson, Rocco Berry tries; Johnson 6 goals) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 18 (Tyrell Sloan, Zane Musgrove, Francis Molo tires; Zac Lomax 3 goals) at WIN Stadium, Wollongong.