Shaun and Kayla’s bub arrived on time, a top-10 post-1995 crowd turned up to Mt Smart and the home side pumped a top-four team 44-12 – everything’s coming up Warriors and these are indeed halcyon days.
Cronulla came out firing and scored the first try, but it was one-way traffic after the Warriors weathered the early storm. A four-try barrage in 12 minutes set up a commanding 22-6 halftime lead.
The Warriors had to hang tough for the opening quarter of an hour of the second stanza – brilliant (and at times fortuitously) keeping their line intact – before lighting it up on attack again, three tries in eight minutes taking them out to an unassailable 38-6 with 17 minutes left.
It was perhaps Andrew Webster’s charges’ biggest statement in a 2023 campaign packed with them; a definitive sign that the Warriors not just could, but should finish top four. A preliminary final a minimum goal, a grand final an absolute possibility…maybe even a premiership.
Unsurprisingly, there’s some glowing praise in this week’s Kingz Container Crew player ratings – with some regulars and some new faces at the pointy end of the marks out of 10.
1 CHARNZE NICOL-KLOKSTAD: A game-high 198 metres, a try-saving tackle and the assist for the Warriors’ opening try in the first half, and backed up a break to score and open up the floodgates in the second half – another huge outing for the custodian. Just a fumble of a difficult kick near his own line against CNK’s name. 8
2 DALLIN WATENE-ZELEZNIAK: A superb double via a try in each half – the first something of a sitter and the second a trademark aerial dive – to take his tally to 15 in just 12 games this season. Received little leeway but took the tough carries to finish with 117 metres on 16 runs and produced a couple of key clean-up plays, grabbing a points decision in a big wing battle with Ronaldo Mulitalo. 8
3 ROCCO BERRY: Well, well, well…what an emphatic breakout game from Rocco, his 22nd in the NRL and his best by a large margin. Looked every bit the future gun centre, running a great line off Johnson to score, making a brilliant break to send CNK away for a try, throwing the last pass for DWZ’s second and running for 129 metres on 11 carries with a game-high seven tackle-breaks. In what shaped as a worrying match-up with Siosifa Talakai, the 22-year-old was almost as impressive in defence, coming up with some fine reads and bone-rattling efforts. Gave away a couple of penalties, though one was absolute horseshit. Off the top of my head, the best display by a Warriors centre since Peta Hiku in late-2020. 8.5
4 ADAM POMPEY: Nice footwork to ice the victory with a late try – and didn’t he need that after a glaringly subpar first 75 minutes. Looked lost in defence all day (as stats of 12 tackles with eight misses might suggest), most notably getting embarrassingly stood up by Nicho Hynes before the cover defence saved his blushes. Not much to get excited about in attack besides the four-pointer, finishing with 66 metres from nine runs. 5
5 MARCELO MONTOYA: Not his best, not his worst. A high-tackle penalty in the lead-up to the Sharks’ first try and a bad handling error that could’ve proved costly in the dying stages of the first half, as well as enduring a couple of sketchy moments in defence opposite Sione Katoa. Did some good things, too, and trucked it up 15 times for 119 metres. 6
6 LUKE METCALF: Making it very, very tough for Te Maire Martin to reclaim the six jersey when fit. On the back of last week’s breakout game, scored a brilliant try through his support play and blinding pace, and chewed off 95 metres from eight runs. Less prominent in a ball-playing capacity than against the Eels, but arguably the standout feature today – and a quality that is perhaps most crucial to keeping him in first grade – was his gritty 20-tackle showing without the ball. Came up with some important and very solid stops against his old club with Briton Nikora running at him all day. 8
7 SHAUN JOHNSON: Second-time dad to wee Sachi on Friday, Cronulla’s dad for the second time this season on Sunday. Absolute masterclass in a week where he was entitled to be more than a little distracted, with his brilliant hands all over six of the Warriors’ eight tries – including three try-assists and the second-last money ball for two more. Buried a 40/20 in the lead-up to the try he set up for AFB. Ran the ball 12 times, strong on defence and saved a try with a desperate effort on Mulitalo. Marvellous. 9
8 ADDIN FONUA-BLAKE: Has to be firming as Payne Haas’ prop partner in the Dally M Team of the Year after another Beast Mode performance, dominating his Sharks rivals with 20 runs for 183 metres (62 post-contact), four tackle-breaks, a powerhouse try, a great offload to set up the last try, plus 24 tackles. Massive 51-minute first shift. Arguably the Warriors’ second-most important player. 8.5
9 WAYDE EGAN: All class again with a big highlight-reel moment in the form of a sizzling line-break to send Metcalf away for a try, but his quality service and option-taking was integral to everything the Warriors did. Made 33 tackles (seven misses) and got a 10-minute stint in the halves at the end with Johnson going off. 8
16 TOM ALE: Received his first run-on opportunity in the NRL in a late change, but didn’t quite grasp it as we’d hope. Eventually played on 26 minutes across two stints, making just six runs for 35 metres. Good in defence with 18 tackles and no misses. 5.5
10 MITCH BARNETT: Moved back to the edge to start but played most of his 68 minutes in the middle and was and out-and-out enforcer with 18 runs for 165 metres (59 post-contact) and many hurtful contributions among 28 tackles. Clearly the second-best prop in the club and will surely start there when Niukore returns. 8
11 JACKSON FORD: More of the same aggressive wholeheartedness in 80 minutes from Ford with 12 runs for 89 metres and a team-high 38 tackles, holding down that left edge nicely now with Metcalf alongside him. Fired the pass for Pompey to score in the dying minutes. 7.5
13 TOHU HARRIS: Only 36 minutes on the paddock and the assumption was there was some sort of injury when he went off midway through the first half. But looked fine when he returned during the second stanza and was super-industrious while out there, with 13 runs for 96 metres and 25 tackles without a miss. Hand in the CNK try. 7.5
12 JOSH CURRAN: Not for the first time in 2023, the basic stats (eight runs for 44 metres, 12 tackles) didn’t tell the story of Curran’s impact in 41 minues. Excellent try in the second half running off SJ, great offload to help set up DWZ’s second and some great clean-up efforts in defence. 7.5
14 FREDDY LUSSICK: Came on for the last 15 minutes, having a hand in the last try. 5
15 BAYLEY SIRONEN: Handy 30-minute offering on the edge, making five strong runs for 52 metres and 17 tackles. 6.5
17 DYLAN WALKER: The tempo change when Walker enters the fray hugely evident again today, while his work-rate and impact in 49 minutes – making 18 runs for 147 metres, 23 tackles and 13 passes – including a hand in Dallin’s second. The sort of player that elevates the Warriors from being a Top 8 team to top four. 8