TWL RD 24: THE TRON HOODOO BROKEN IN SCRAPPIEST OF WARRIORS WINS

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The ability to win ugly is a common trait of quality teams. The 2023 Warriors have shown they can do it at times, most notably last week on the Gold Coast.

I’m not sure whether we needed to know they could win fugly, though, with a 30-22 win over the last-placed Wests Tigers in Hamilton about as homely as they come.

We’ve been so spoilt by the overwhelmingly enjoyable, non-nerve-shredding nature of Andrew Webster’s sides wins that this was the rugby league-viewing equivalent of a hangnail that gets caught every time you take your jersey off.

The Warriors threatened to run away with it but an early 12-0 lead was wiped out as quickly as it was built. A regained 10-point advantage earned in the second half wasn’t enough to break the spirit of the lowly Tigers, who were inspired by a fullback playing five-eighth who is not long back in the team after 14 weeks in reserve grade.

Daine Laurie brilliantly set up three tries and finished off a long-range movement he started to keep the surrogate home team in the contest until the dying stages as a clunky and impatient Warriors side bumbled their way to the finish line.

The Warriors had 56 percent of the ball, ran for almost 500 metres more (with Addin Fonua-Blake trucking it up for a mammoth 262 metres), won the penalty count 11-5 and their opponents completed at just 63 percent with their meagre share of possession. But uncharacteristic defensive lapses saw the plucky Tigers, who have found another leg in recent weeks, consistently kill their momentum with three tries from outside the Warriors’ 40 (two from well inside their own half).

The loss of Wayde Egan, who was hospitalised with a throat injury in the 23rd minute, was a key factor in the Warriors’ lack of rhythm. Nevertheless, they found away to rack up enough points to get another two competition points after letting a double-digit lead slip for the third straight game.

How about some positives?

There were some sublime moments from the likes of Shaun Johnson and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak yet again. The Warriors have retained third spot and would just about have to lose their last three to miss out on a top-four finish. They’ve won eight from nine for just the second time in the club’s history (the other occasion was 2002). They belatedly broken through for a maiden win in Hamilton at their fifth attempt, just their 10th win in 34 matches at New Zealand venues that aren’t Mt Smart in one of the premiership’s most bewildering trends. A sellout crowd was a tremendous result for the Tigers, Warriors and rugby league in our country.

And they are still winning.

The early signs were of an emphatic hoodoo-busting victory lap in the Tron.

Tohu Harris served up a beautiful ball to send Mitch Barnett steaming through a hole on halfway and the quicksilver Luke Metcalf backed up to open the scoring in the seventh minute.

Before quarter of an hour was up, Shaun Johnson served up an exquisite select pass for Adam Pompey to storm over for just his fourth try of the season.

But Barnett’s second straight drop in the first hit-up from the kick-off proved costly second time around. Daine Laurie slipped through a half-gap and served up a questionable offload for Starford To’a to crash over.

A few tackles later, Laurie dummied and scythed through a gap between Addin Fonua-Blake and Barnett on the Warriors’ 30-metre line before linking with Luke Brooks, who streaked away for a leveller.

Regrouping, the Warriors gained the ascendancy territory-, possession- and scoreboard-wise, a sustained period of pressure eventually telling in the 33rd minute.

Johnson and fullback stand-in Taine Tuaupiki combined for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to produce one of his best finishes yet and take his 2023 tally to an amazing 18 tries in 15 games.

Up 16-12 at the break, the Warriors emerged from a sloppy start to the second stanza and looked set to go on with the job when a nice piece of deception from dummy-half replacement Bayley Sironen paved the way for Tohu Harris to score for the second consecutive game in the 49th minute.

But Laurie again dragged the Tigers back into the game, spying a chance on the Tigers’ 20 to allow Jahream Bula to power into open space and find the No.6 backing up to score with 23 minutes left.

An excruciating back-and-forth unfolded, the Warriors turning ball over and looking flighty before inching back out to a six-point lead via Johnson’s cool 68th-minute goal.

As he did against the Titans, Johnson started taking over in the latter stages and seemingly sealed it with another wonderful cut-out ball to put Mr. Industrious AFB over under the posts with less than four minutes on the clock.

Again the Tigers refused to go away, getting the ball back from a bizarre short kick-off and scoring through Laurie’s brilliance soon afterwards, with To’a getting his second. But Api Koroisau’s missed conversion confirmed a shaky win for the Warriors.

Back to Mt Smart Stadium next Friday and a clash with an all but out-of-contention Manly Sea Eagles…but another assignment that seems anything but a gimme given the Warriors’ increasingly wobbly showings in recent weeks.

Warriors 30 (Luke Metcalf, Adam Pompey, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Tohu Harris, Addin Fonua-Blake tries; Pompey 3, Shaun Johnson 2 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 22 (Starford To’a 2, Luke Brooks, Daine Laurie tries; Api Koroisau 3 goals) at FMG Stadium, Hamilton. 

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