Warriors inflict first defeat on Dragons
No Shaun Johnson? No problem, as the New Zealand Warriors joined the St. George Illawarra Dragons at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder with Friday night's 20-12 win at Mt Smart Stadium.
In front of more than 18,000 fans in Auckland, the Warriors put in an 80-minute effort in both attack and defence to end the Dragons' unbeaten start to the season - and prove to anyone left doubting that they are indeed the real deal in 2018.
The Dragons threatened with a second half comeback but were never really in the contest after falling behind early, made to chase the game from the opening whistle.
The Warriors ran in four tries to two, despite only having 38 per cent of the ball.
Warriors halfback Mason Lino, called in mid week for the injured Johnson, put in another outstanding performance in his second start of the season.
Lino broke three tackles close to the line to cross for the Warriors' first try after just four minutes and the home side never looked back.
As good as they looked in attack, the Warriors' defence was the story of the first half as they repelled the rampant Dragons time and time again.
The opening quarter of the match was an arm wrestle, both sides guilty of conceding penalties for being inside the ten.
The Dragons threatened through the likes of Matt Dufty and Euan Aitken, but the home team's edge defence held.
Late inclusion Anthony Gelling was called upon to make several one-on-one stops and was up to the task.
With ten minutes remaining before the halftime break the home side lost one of their key men in Tohu Harris to a head injury and he did not return.
But even that didn't take the wind out of the Warriors' sails and five minutes later, in just their fourth trip inside the Dragons red zone, rookie centre Gelling danced his way through some suspect defence to cross for the first try of his NRL career just before the break.
Lino converted and the Warriors went into the sheds 10-0 up.
However, they lost five-eighth Blake Green to the sinbin in the final seconds of half and played the first 10 minutes of the second half with 12 men.
The Dragons continued to control possession and mount pressure in the second half and eventually the Warriors' defence cracked in the 48th minute.
It took the some individual brilliance from Ben Hunt, with the halfback slipping through four attempted tackles and crossing under the posts to get his side on the board.
Match: Warriors vs Dragons
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium
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Ten minutes later and the Dragons looked to be in again, only to be denied by the bunker for a knock-on from James Graham in an unlikely aerial contest for the ball with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
In response, Isaac Luke ducked out of dummy half and peeled off a long 40/20 to give the Warriors great starting field position.
Two tackles later and the hooker did it all himself, faking to his right and darting over to score. Lino converted and the Warriors led 16-6 with 15 minutes to go.
The Dragons weren't finished, cutting it to 16-12 with a Tariq Sims converted try with seven minutes remaining.
However any hopes of a comeback were squashed moments later when Warriors forward Isaiah Papali'i scored off the back of some ad-lib offloading on the last tackle to put the game to bed.