Warriors v Dragons: Five key points
The Warriors put a satisfying end to a disruptive week by downing the Dragons 26-10 on Sunday afternoon, in what was their first victory over St George Illawarra in their last 12 attempts. Here are five key points from the Round 9 clash at Mt Smart Stadium.
Relief rather than joy for McFadden
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden's mood in the post-match press conference was reserved, despite his side having just rallied to record their fourth victory of the year.
The win will provide some temporary relief from the heavy criticism surrounding the club right now, but overall McFadden said he was just relieved to get the game out of the way before heading into a week off for the Representative Round.
"Very similar to the players I imagine; relief is a big one," McFadden said when asked what emotions he felt.
"It's been a big week, and probably not many people understand how big of a week that was for the players and how much pressure they were under."
In particular it remains to be seen how the playing group will react to the standing down of experienced and popular players Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino and Bodene Thompson.
Old heads show leadership in time of need
It was always going to be vital that what little experience the Warriors had left in their side this week stood up against the Dragons, and on cue they performed according to both coach and captain.
Prop Jacob Lillyman bashed his way to 174 metres with 48 tackles in the middle, while Shaun Johnson and Jeff Robson both directed play well and scored tries themselves.
McFadden said he knew the team's leaders were up for the challenge when he left the dressing room pre-match.
"I saw a real steel in their eyes, particularly from our senior players, I thought they did a terrific job leading this week and it was good to see they all brought a lot of energy," he said.
Warriors skipper Ryan Hoffman said it was pleasing to see his fellow veterans lead the way.
"We have been given the task of being senior players by 'Cappy' [McFadden] because of the attitudes we bring," Hoffman said.
"I was very proud to see the way Shaun [Johnson] played today, the way Jacob Lillyman played, these are our senior players in the team."
Errors cancel out improved Dragons attack
St George Illawarra produced one of their best efforts of the season in attack, regularly creating strong scoring opportunities and even getting over the line on a number of occasions.
The problem was getting the ball down – or doing it within the laws of the game – with the bunker twice ruling tries out for obstruction while the Dragons also had two certain four-pointers denied by last-ditch efforts from David Fusitu'a.
"They turned the ball over a fair bit in the second half to give us every chance," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
"It certainly doesn't help when you get three tries turned away, but that is not the reason we lost today.
"We got down there five or six times and came away with five tries in the first half, and I thought we could certainly score some points in the second half, but unfortunately they just ran a lot harder than us and tackled a lot harder than us."
'Fill-in' players look at home
Six inexperienced Warriors players received a surprise tap on the shoulder from McFadden this week and were called up to play first-grade, with each doing the job asked of them according to the coach.
Starting lock John Palavi played all but 13 minutes of the game, making 38 tackles, while winger Matthew Allwood scored a try and ran for 115 metres on the day.
Rookie utility Jazz Tevaga was another standout, playing 71 minutes at both lock and dummy-half.
"They came in, they gave us some energy, they performed really well," McFadden said.
"I thought Jazz and John Palavi, Matty Allwood, I thought they were terrific. It was very pleasing."
Playing in his first game at Mt Smart Stadium since leaving the Warriors in 2013, prop Russell Packer was strong off the bench for the Dragons.
In 39 minutes on the field he was busy, running 12 times for 124 metres, while also making 24 tackles.
His coach said it came as no surprise, and that prior to the match Packer spoke of wanting to make his mark on his return 'home'.
"His talk was excited, he wanted to come back and play well and prove that he has worked really hard to be in the position he is," McGregor said.
"I thought certainly in patches he did that… it was good that he could come back over, see family and friends again and play football again where he grew up."