Six days after being given the worst possible rating by caretaker coach Stacey Jones the Warriors turned from witches hats to winners in an eight-try take-down of a sloppy and road-weary Bulldogs outfit in Auckland.
In a stark turnaround from last week’s 48-10- thrashing by South Sydney, which Jones labelled embarrassing, the Warriors ended a four-match losing streak with a 42-18 victory set-up by a three try to one first-half, which could have been five or six to one.
The toil of a five-day back-up combined with slippery conditions at Mt Smart Stadium made things difficult for the travelling Bulldogs, visiting for the first time since 2019, and the Warriors were able to make them pay for seven opening half=errors.
With the lethal left foot of Bulldogs playmaker Matt Burton providing a constant threat for anyone unlucky enough to be underneath his spiralling bombs, the visitors scored the opening two tries of the second half to roar back in to the game.
But then the home team found the defensive steel which was absent six days ago, before turning on their attacking flair late, to record their second win at home in 2022 and their biggest score since 2016.
It was just a second win since April for the Warriors who benefited from Shaun Johnson’s ball-playing close to the line, some power running from big men Tohu Harris and Addin Fonua-Blake and the electric outside backs who provided four of the eight four-pointers.
Johnson finished the game with two try-assists, the second a brilliant short ball to Eliesa Katoa who broken an 18-18 deadlock in the 57th minute, before sealing the game with a four-pointer of his own, leaving his opposition number seven, Kyle Flanagan, grasping at air as he ran past.
From there the Bulldogs, who had travelled in back-to-back weeks from Bundaberg to Auckland ran out of bite, as the Warriors scored three tries in the final five minutes to complete a much-needed victory.
FOX ON THE RUN
When Warriors speed-machine Dallin Watene-Zelezniak intercepted a pass from Bulldog Matt Burton in the opening half and charged nearly 85m down the field to score his team’s second try, he probably thought he had the best long-range run of the game.
But he was outdone in the second half when the fastest man in the NRL, Josh Addo-Carr, who had been having a fairly quiet night, replied with a longer run when he also seized on an errant Warriors pass to charge more than 90m to score a crucial try for his team.
The four-pointer from the “Fox” levelled the scores, just after the Warriors were denied their own scoring chance.
With just three weeks left in the season, Bulldogs Burton and Braidon Burns might be available for all of them.
Burns was put on report early in the game for taking out Warriors playmaker Daejarn Asi after a kick, and Burton for a high hit on Watene-Zelezniak.
The return of the Warriors to Auckland has provided some up and down results for the home town fans, with two wins and a big loss.
But the real winner seems to have been 31-year-old Auckland bricklayer, Calley Gibbons, who has shot to fame on the back of his “shoeys” in front of the Warriors coaching box whenever it appears on the big screen.
Not only has Gibbons been doing interviews across the ditch, he’s also found his way into some sponsorship, which was on display when the camera found him for the first time following the home team’s opening try of the night.
Tries: Vailea, Watene-Zelezniak, Kosi (2), Katoa, Curran, Johnson, Fonua-Blake
Goals: Walsh 8/8
Tries: Averillo, Flanagan, Addo-Carr
Goals: Burton 3/3
At Eden Park