The Warriors showed what might have been this season after finally exhibiting all of their skills in a 34-20 win over Canberra at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.
Although both sides are well and truly out of finals contention, the Warriors looked a class above as they raced in six tries and distance themselves from last-placed Cronulla and Sydney Roosters.
It was a bittersweet day for coach Ivan Cleary, however, who must be wondering why it has taken so long for the Warriors – who many expected to challenge for the premiership in 2009 – to show what they are capable of.
Certainly their opening try was reminiscent of the 2002 side, with the ball passing through four sets of hands before Ukuma Ta’ai threw an outrageous one-handed offload for Lance Hohaia to score.
Aaron Heremaia then streaked through to make it 12-0 after just 11 minutes.
But while their attack was back on track, the Warriors still snoozed at times in defence and the ease with which Canberra hit back was typical of the home side’s season.
Josh McCrone was the first to bother the scorers as he spotted a huge gap and ran 20 metres untouched, then Jarrod Croker crashed through in the left corner to make it 12-10 shortly before the break.
It took a barging Simon Mannering try right on half-time to settle the Warriors’ nerves before they blew the game apart in the second stanza.
A three-try blitz between the 52nd and 65th minutes saw the Warriors race out to a 34-10 lead, with Hohaia picking up his second and Jerome Ropati scoring after a brilliant effort to out-leap the Raiders’ defence from a bomb.
Two late Canberra tries narrowed the gap but were never going to cause the Warriors any concerns.
The Game Swung When… Simon Mannering crashed over to score with the half-time siren looming.
The Raiders had scored two quick tries to narrow the gap to just two points and Warriors captain Steve Price was clearly worried as he laid down the law to his players in the in-goal, but Mannering’s effort stopped the rot.
The Warriors came out after the break and blew their opponents away.
Who Was Hot… A number of the Warriors’ big guns returned to form, with Manu Vatuvei, Lance Hohaia, Jerome Ropati, Sam Rapira, Kevin Locke and Ukuma Ta’ai all running for more than 100 metres.
Hohaia was particularly effective with the ball in hand and was rewarded with two tries.
Canberra fullback Josh Dugan was easily his side’s best with a game-high 223 metres.
Who Was Not… It was a particularly quiet day for five-eighth Terry Campese, who kicked well but was otherwise little more than a passenger for much of the afternoon.
When Campese fires the Raiders usually do too. He didn’t; they didn’t.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The Warriors’ opening try reminded everyone of just how good this side can be on its day – and how poor they have been this season.
It began with a half-break and brilliant inside ball from Joel Moon to Wade McKinnon on the halfway line who in turn found Ta’ai backing up.
The movement looked certain to break down with two Canberra defenders converging but at the last minute Ta’ai somehow managed to float a pass back for Hohaia to swoop and score between the posts.
Refs Watch… Some minor inconsistencies from referees Matt Cecchin and Adam Devcich but an otherwise solid performance.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Lance Hohaia (Warriors): Scored two tries, ran for 100 metres and was a handful every time he touched the ball; 2 points – Sam Rapira (Warriors): Carried the ball up strongly all afternoon and was his side’s most effective forward with 114 metres to his name; 1 point – Josh Dugan (Raiders): A shining light for Canberra in an otherwise disappointing performance. Ran for a massive 223 metres.
Warriors 34 (L Hohaia 2, A Heremaia, S Mannering, J Ropati, J Moon tries; K Locke 5 goals) def Raiders 20 (J Croker 2, J McCrone, J Thompson tries; T Campese 2 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Crowd: 8812.