The offensive juggernaut that is the Warriors rolled on yesterday, running over a determined Raiders side to set up an intriguing run home as the NRL season approaches its climax and finals fever starts to build.
A solid defensive effort that kept the Raiders scoreless in the second half laid the foundation for a fourth successive victory; but it was the Warriors' deadly attack that will have their fellow contenders sweating.
With senior playmaker James Maloney imperious on the right, rookie halfback Shaun Johnson a constant threat on the left and Kevin Locke providing a razor-like thrust through the middle, the Warriors offered a triple threat the Raiders simply couldn't live with.
"There is no doubt their attack is as good as any in the competition," said Raiders captain Alan Tongue, who labelled his conquerors genuine title contenders.
"The style of footy they play, the second-phase that they create and the questions they ask of you in defence; they are as good as any team in the competition. If they can dominate that possession game and keep the energy in their tank for their defence they'll be hard to beat."
Yesterday the Raiders dished out jarring hits and overturned an early eight-point deficit to lead by two at the break. But with captain Simon Mannering immovable in defence and Johnson and Locke sparking tries through key one-on-one strips, the Warriors cantered to a comfortable victory.
Things are about to get less comfortable for a team that has posted four straight victories against teams languishing on the bottom half of the ladder. Four of their final five matches are against fellow top-eight sides while the other is against ninth-placed Penrith.
"The closer you get to the finals the intensity starts to rise, especially if you are playing teams that are going to be there or vying for it," coach Ivan Cleary said. "We've got plenty of those, starting with the Broncos [on Saturday night]."
Maloney continues to impress in his second NRL season, notching 9 points from a try, two conversions and a late field goal and also chalking up two try assists.
"We are playing well, with good structure all over the park," Maloney said. "We'll just keep chipping away."
Manu Vatuvei opened the scoring with a smart finish from a deflected Elijah Taylor pass and Shaun Berrigan also crossed inside the first 15 minutes.
Those scores were too easy, Cleary said.
"We looked like a batsman who had come out and hit a century then hit a few fours early - you can get a bit ahead of yourself," he said.
The Raiders hit back through Daniel Vidot and Jarrod Croker to ensure there was no room for complacency in the second half.
Locke stripped Tongue to help set up Sam Rapira's try from Johnson's kick four minutes after the restart and the Warriors never looked back with Joel Moon, Maloney and Bill Tupou running in tries.
Mannering departed early with a knee injury he described as "just a knock" and there were no shortage of players with bumps and bruises after a physical encounter.
Should any of those knocks prove serious, a growing corps of replacements are waiting. Lewis Brown and Brett Seymour returned from injury for the Vulcans on Saturday and Krisnan Inu, Glen Fisiiahi, Steve Rapira and Ukuma Ta'ai turned out for the feeder club.
"There is a still a long way to go this season - well, I certainly hope there is a long way to go," Cleary said.
The way they are playing, it would be surprising if the Warriors didn't fulfil Cleary's hopes and make a run deep into the finals.By Steve Deane Email Steve