Warriors: Kicking key to victory
In greasy conditions on Friday night in Auckland the Warriors ironically won the arm wrestle against the Canterbury Bulldogs with their feet in a 21-14 victory.
Led by halfback Shaun Johnson – who put boot to ball 20 times for 590 kicking metres – the Warriors kept Canterbury on the back foot for the majority of the 80 minutes and restricted the impact of their representative-laden forward pack.
In total the home side kicked for 731 metres in Round 16, 278 more than the Bulldogs, with coach Stephen Kearney pointing to it as the major factor in the win.
"We had a real focus on a particular aspect of the game, kicking the ball and making them work really hard to come out of the back field, and I thought the guys did that pretty well for most of the game," Kearney said.
"I thought in terms of the movement of the footy it was going to be a little limited tonight given it was pretty greasy out there.
"So it was about making sure that if they were going to get points they had to come from a long way to try and get them. That was a focus for us.
"We got what we expected tonight from a football team that we anticipated were going to be tough."
Those thoughts were echoed by Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds, who singled out Johnson for special praise and admitted the clever kicking game had led his side into making unforced errors.
"Johnson kicked us off the park mate," Reynolds told NRL.com.
"He kicked us into corners and we were coming out of there a lot. He forced our hand a couple of times because you feel you have to come up with a play there.
"He played a good game."
The victory was the second in a row for the Warriors, following on from a win over the Gold Coast Titans in Round 14, and their third in four games, inching them closer to the NRL Telstra Premiership top eight.
The Kiwi side also had to get the job done without star playmaker Kieran Foran, who was a pre-match withdrawal due to a quad injury, while veteran rake Issac Luke missed the entire second half after suffering a suspected dislocated shoulder.
While the club will await scans on Saturday to determine the severity of Luke's injury, Kearney said the initial signs were positive.
"He (Luke) has pulled up really well, he feels really confident about it, he has got some pretty good movement in it, but it's one of those things we have got to get it assessed tomorrow.," Kearney said.
"He is waving his arm about at the minute… we will see how it pulls up over the next day or so."
Youngster Nathaniel Roache, who ran for 75 metres and made 27 tackles after being called upon in the 32nd minute of the match, would be the front-runner to fill the vacant spot at No.9 should Luke miss any time.
The club also have Jazz Tevaga, who was used at dummy-half in the NRL last year, while mid-season signing Manaia Cherrington would also be in the mix.