Warriors v Knights: Five key points
After the Warriors fifth consecutive game decided by four points, they have strung together three wins in a row to cement their place in the NRL Telstra Premiership Top 8. Here are five things we learnt from their narrow victory over the Knights.
New strategy for Warriors hookers
Warriors Coach Andrew McFadden turned his dummy-half rotation plan on its head against Newcastle, as he looks for ways to cover the loss of Thomas Leuluai to a season-ending ACL injury.
After electing to start Siliva Havili instead of veteran rake Nathan Friend, McFadden interchanged the pair before the game was even 25 minutes old.
Havili returned to the action in the second half, only to be substituted again in the dying minutes, as McFadden re-introduced the more defence-minded Friend to help ensure the Knights didn't score a late winner at Mt Smart Stadium.
"Obviously we wanted to get Siliva in the game early, he is a bigger body so he can handle that physical contact," McFadden said.
"The beauty of having Nathan is that it doesn’t matter when we bring him on, we know he can finish the game. He gives us a lot of flexibility around our interchanges."
Knights soldier on despite injury toll
With frontline players Jarrod Mullen, Kade Snowden, Jeremy Smith and captain Kurt Gidley already out the last thing the Knights needed was another injury in a key position.
With Tyrone Roberts limping off in the fourth minute and not returning, the Knights fought bravely to score 20 points and come close to knocking over the Warriors at home.
How long their No. 7 will be out for isn't clear, with coach Rick Stone optimistic at full time.
"He [Roberts] has got a mild [ankle] syndesmosis strain, he's in the boot at the moment," Stone said.
"We will get some scans and sort him out once we get back to Newcastle.
"If you have a real mild one you can possibly play the next week. What the scans show us will give us an idea of what's next for Tyrone.
"All we can do is regroup, see how Kade is and Kurt is and a few other boys, and see what sort of team we are going to put on the field next week."
Back-rower Chris Houston, playing game 150 for the club, said the injuries weren’t to blame for the loss.
"We probably knew fairly early on that Jeremy wasn’t playing as well as a couple of other boys, but in saying that I thought our young blokes were great today," Houston said.
Big Manu hits Newcastle again
After he jumped over the top of opposite number Akuila Uate and pushed him aside like an empty dinner plate to score a 13th-minute try, Manu Vatuvei equalled Billy Slater as the man with the most tries ever against Newcastle.
With 17 touchdowns in as many games, Vatuvei has been haunting the Novocastrians for over a decade now.
His impact on Sunday afternoon wasn’t restricted to scoring tries either, with the Telstra Premiership's all-time leading Kiwi try scorer running for 138 metres off 14 carries.
Slater will have the opportunity to reassume the overall mantle when the Storm host Newcastle in Round 24.
Warriors pepper Knights' left side
The Warriors scored three of their five tries down Newcastle's left corridor, with Shaun Johnson directing plenty of traffic in the direction of Joey Leilua and Tariq Sims.
For the most part both players stood up to the test, only missing two tackles each, but the efforts on the defensive side ensured they were little threat with ball in hand.
Warriors' right-side players Bodene Thompson and Tuimoala Lolohea were the biggest individual beneficiaries of the tactic, running for 134 and 154 metres respectively, while Lolohea also grabbed a try.
Post-match McFadden singled out the efforts of Thompson, who had 45 tackles to go with his high workload in attack.
"He had a huge game for us, he has been playing with that sort of energy the last few weeks," McFadden said of his off-season recruit from the Wests Tigers.
"We have really challenged Bodene and he has responded."
Gagai a shining light
With his side lacking a leader on the attacking side of the ball, Dane Gagai stood up once again in the fullback position.
By the end of the 80 minutes he had a try, try assist, 189 running metres off 18 runs, two line breaks and a goal to his name.
Arguably the best Knight on the Mt Smart Stadium turf, Gagai seemed to pop up every time they needed a big play, impressing his coach along the way.
"The effort that he brings and the competitiveness that he brings is a great bonus for our team,"
Newcastle coach Rick Stone said of the young Queenslander.
"He's dangerous and the fullback position gives him the opportunity to get the ball in his hands as often as he can.
"I thought he popped up everywhere and was a consistent threat to the Warriors' defensive line. He made himself a nuisance."