The scoreboard at Wollongong yesterday made it look like the Dragons had handed the Warriors a caning.
The numbers should have been closer in a game the Warriors were always going to find tough - they have never won in the steel city - but their completion rate in the second half was poor, with knock-ons and forward passes late in the tackle count.
Three times these came when the Dragons were broken open and with the line begging.
Three times Warriors players had men open outside them but elected to take the defence on and were stopped.
For that the Dragons deserve credit. Their scramble and protection of their line was first-class.
It was no surprise where their attack prospered. Centre Matt Cooper's angled runs at speed brought him two tries and midfield Mark Gasnier's support play provided two for wing Josh Morris. Big prop Jason Ryles provided off-loads for Dean Young and Josh Morris to score.
But there was no disgrace for the Auckland club and there remains the expectation they can beat Penrith at Mt Smart next Sunday to keep their finals hopes alive. The Panthers have a tough ask against a full-strength Storm side in Penrith tonight then have to travel and they will meet a Warriors side at full strength with Micheal Luck returning and buoyant from a run of wins at home.
The Dragons had most of the ball for the first quarter and the Warriors got the better of it in the second but the home team benefited from a six-one penalty count as referee Shayne Hayne was swayed by the crowd. That meant the Warriors spent much time defending near their line and little attacking the other end.
When they did, they looked good, well organised and threatening. Three times fullback Wade McKinnon entered the line to make breaks, the first chance lost by a knock-on further in the movement and the second called back for a forward pass before he collected Sam Rapira's off-load to score.
Rapira's work was well done, attracting two defenders and delivering one-handed to the man he knew was coming. McKinnon's forays to collect the ball at speed have added a huge dimension to the Warriors attack. Hooker Ian Henderson's dummy-half work is good, picking out retreating runners as cover and when Lance Hohaia is on the field at the same time it offers a one-two punch.
The Warriors look capable. Yesterday they created plenty of chances but the execution was pushed and panicked, a factor that worsened as time wore down. The Dragons completed 32/41 sets, the Warriors 18/32 and just 6/16 in the second half.
For Ryles and Gasnier it was the last game at Wollongong before heading to the Northern Hemisphere in 2009 and both went out on a high note, the skipper providing a great back-flip pass for Kiwi Jason Nightingale to score as well as kicking five from six.
"We realised that we had to put pressure on their kickers and take away their room," Gasnier said of the second half, where the Warriors played into an increasing southerly.
And he praised both Ryles and Nightingale as well as Wendell Sailor who continually required multiple tacklers. "When people rip in throughout the game I think it's contagious," Gasnier said.
The Warriors have signed promising Ellerslie-raised halfback/five-eighth Liam Foran, 20, from the Melbourne Storm.
Foran, who has represented Australian Schoolboys and the Junior Kiwis, signed to return to Auckland after the Storm extended Cooper Cronk's deal through 2013.