NRL: Warriors spoil Benji's Leichhardt farewell

By Michael Brown

Shaun Johnson of the Warriors celebrates with team mates after scoring the Warrior's opening try during the round 19 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images.
Shaun Johnson of the Warriors celebrates with team mates after scoring the Warrior's opening try during the round 19 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images.

Wests Tigers 14
Warriors 24

Benji Marshall had tears in his eyes at kickoff and his mood hadn't improved much by the end as his side suffered a defeat that might have put paid to their playoffs hopes.

Last night's match was always going to be an emotional one, considering it was Marshall's last appearance at Leichhardt Oval before his switch to rugby union at the end of the season, but it was ultimately a losing one.

It's not an event he's experienced much at Leichhardt, given they went into the game having won 13 of their last 16 and four of five against the Warriors.

Marshall made a quick impact, laying on a try with a brilliant cutout pass, but the 28-year-old was otherwise largely enigmatic.

Instead it was Shaun Johnson who stood out in something akin to a changing of the guard.

The Warriors halfback, who could be expected to replace Marshall as the playmaker in the Kiwis, scored a double, created another with a clever grubber and kicked four goals - he has now landed his last 21 attempts - for a personal haul of 16 points.

He has talked about wanting to be the best half in the game and, while he still has some way to go, continues to mature nicely and there are many who are convinced he could one day help bring a premiership to Mt Smart Stadium.

More importantly, however, the result saw the Warriors get back to winning ways after their defeat to the Rabbitohs a fortnight ago which snapped a five-game winning run. It took the Warriors to 20 competition points, level with Newcastle in seventh but with a vastly inferior points differential, and they can almost taste life in the top eight.

For some time it didn't look like they would emerge from Leichhardt with the points.

Warriors coach Matt Elliott has talked repeatedly this season about intensity and attitude but those qualities were sadly lacking throughout most of their first-half effort. Instead, they looked lacklustre and invited the Tigers to cause them problems, despite their perilous position on the table.

The home side crossed twice inside the opening 10 minutes, the first when David Nofoaluma touched down courtesy of a long, cut-out pass from Marshall and the second when Chris Lawrence bumped off Konrad Hurrell to score.

The Warriors also handed the Tigers a try on the stroke of halftime when Tim Simona breezed past Hurrell and beat Kevin Locke to his own chip to score and give his side a 14-6 lead.

At the time they had started to gain the initiative but handed the Tigers a gift. The Warriors looked a different outfit from the re-start and largely dominated proceedings as they kept the home side scoreless in the second spell.

They hit back almost immediately when Hurrell was put clear by Simon Mannering in the 41st minute and added others to Johnson, who raced 95m, and then Mannering who latched onto a Johnson grubber.

This was far from a clinical Warriors performance but they did enough on a challenging night. They face another one next weekend when they tackle a full-strength Storm side at Mt Smart but they will also go in with renewed confidence having won six of their last seven.

Wests Tigers 14 (David Nofoaluma, Chris Lawrence, Tim Simona tries; Benji Marshall gl ) Warriors 24 (Shaun Johnson 2, Konrad Hurrell, Simon Mannering tries; Johnson 4 gls). HT: 14-6.

- APNZ

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