Warriors rout rusty Rabbitohs in Perth
The freewheeling Warriors of old have emerged to break a 22-year duck in Western Australia and pummel South Sydney Rabbitohs to the tune of 32-20 at Perth's new stadium.
While all eyes were on Greg Inglis's first game since rupturing his ACL some 370 days ago, it was the re-emergence of Shaun Johnson and the Warriors attacking flair that stole the show in the first act of Saturday's double header.
In their 10th match on WA soil going way back to 1996, the Warriors racked up their first Perth win with equal parts flair and sorely needed focus as recruit Blake Green gave Johnson freedom to play the footy few can match, and all will watch.
The wobbles so famously associated with the Warriors threatened late as usual, when Solomone Kata wound up in the sin bin and Souths sniffed a comeback from what was at one point a 20-point deficit.
But the Kiwi outfit held strong as Johnson finished with two line breaks and a hand several tries.
Three tough conversion misses from his boot meant the final score flattered, while Inglis came through the 80 minutes unscathed but with little impact otherwise.
The safety-first football that ended 2017 with nine straight losses was shelved by the Warriors as impressive youngster Isaiah Papali'i punched holes at will down the left edge and David Fusitu'a's finishing prowess earned him a double.
But to start it was the defence of Roger Tuviasa-Sheck that made the most telling mark. Crunching opposite number Alex Johnston in a brutal try-saving tackle, the former Rooster came up crowing to his teammates and urging them to follow his defensive mettle.
Match: Rabbitohs vs Warriors
Venue: Perth Stadium
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But with old habits dying somewhat hard, by the 10th minute that same Warriors defence had gone to water. Some light stepping from Robert Jennings on the last exposed the right edge, allowing Cody Walker to slide through it for a 6-0 South Sydney lead.
With the Rabbitohs making all the running the Warriors took to the air to square up, finding fruit through the boot of Shaun Johnson and Papali'i gobbling up a try in support.
Back in the ball game, they then took to dictating it with a second try in as many minutes as quick hands from Tohu Harris sent Fusitu'a over in the corner.
Despite being on the wrong end of 7-1 penalty count after half an hour, the Warriors went tit for tat with the Bunnies as a try to club debutant Richie Kennar was answered in kind by Sam Lisone
Only a dubious forward pass call against Walker – which had Jennings over in the shadows of half-time – halted the try trading.
And rubbing it right in was Johnson with his first serious foray, splitting the defence on the last play of the half before fine hands from Fusitu'a collected his pass and creating a 20-10 lead.
With Johnson and Green looking more comfortable by the moment, another right-side shift had Tuisava-Sheck putting it on a platter, and Ken Maumalo helping himself and the visitors to a 14-point lead.
As Sam Burgess's frustrations got the better of him and he pegged the ball in anger, the Warriors put the foot to the floor, piling on another four-pointer through Kata.
The Tongan centre was soon given a 10-minute breather at the hour-mark though, after three consecutive penalties slowed a Rabbitohs assault on the Warriors line.
A second try to Kennar down a short side kept Souths alive, and another second-half fade out loomed as the Rabbitohs made two telling late breaks.
But with both plays breaking down and points going begging, a 77th-minute scurry to the tryline from Walker once more proved too little too late, as the Warriors left the West victorious at last.