Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors hammer hapless Raiders

Warriors captain Simon Mannering cruises to the try line against the Raiders last night. Photo / Richard Robinson
Warriors captain Simon Mannering cruises to the try line against the Raiders last night. Photo / Richard Robinson

Warriors 50
Raiders 16

Dare to dream. This was almost inexplicable - a stunning performance that defied the poor results of the past month and kept their play-off hopes alive.

Though far from a perfect display, it was a timely reminder why the Warriors remain the dark horses , the team that none of the big guns want to face if they make the finals.

That's a big if - as their destiny is not totally in their own hands - which could make for a bitter-sweet finale next week. But for now let's laud this performance; let's celebrate this extraordinary show of attacking football that took them into the top eight for the first time this season.

Down 12-6 after 30 minutes, the Warriors scored eight tries - many of them spectacular - in the next 40 minutes. They could have scored more, missing several opportunities.

The result was their biggest win over the Raiders, surpassing the 29-10 victory in 2011.

Most of the plaudits will go to Manu Vatuvei and Shaun Johnson, who notched superb hat-tricks (Johnson's was the fastest in NRL history) but the influence of Thomas Leuluai was crucial. As well as laying on the first try, the five-eighth ran the show in the second quarter of the first half as Vatuvei grabbed three tries in nine minutes. It was the crucial period, giving the Warriors momentum and the platform for their second half display.

"When you hit the in goal from 40 metres out and come up with a repeat set that is a huge play," said coach Matt Elliott of a crucial Leuluai kick midway through the first half. "He had a lot of critics at the start of the year but is showing great poise on a regular basis."

Added Feleti Mateo:"The last part of the first half we had a lot of momentum we just built on that from there."

Vatuvei made a huge contribution, almost unstoppable as he ran for 236 metres while Ben Matulino, Mateo and Jacob Lillyman helped turn the game from the bench.

On the surface, Canberra should have been easy pickings last night. They came into the game on the back of four straight losses, and are in disarray off the field, with the drugs outing of Sandor Earl, departure of coach David Furner and absence of strike centre Blake Ferguson.

They have been among the worst travellers this season, winning just two of 11 away matches and had rejigged their lineup with Joel Thompson (centre), Anthony Milford (halfback) and Josh McCrone (hooker) in unfamiliar positions.

The Warriors made the perfect start, with Elijah Taylor zipping across after three minutes. The back rower has perfected the angled run back across the ruck, resulting in several tries, and this one came from a peach of a pass from Leuluai.

But just as they did in the home match against Penrith, the Warriors let the visitors back into the match.

After some swift backline passing, Jarrod Croker made a 20 metre angled run untouched to score in the 18th minute.

As they have done for most of this season, the Warriors' right side defence was caught in two minds; coming up and advancing before a familiar fatal hesitation.

Croker's second try - sprinting 80 metres after he scooped up an errant Johnson pass - briefly silenced the 15,121 crowd.

The Warriors regained control of the first half with Vatuvei's hat-trick. Leuluai created the first (29th minute) with a pinpoint grubber, while the next two took us back to 2011 and some fabulous interchanges between Mateo and Kevin Locke.

The two have rarely combined since then but Mateo meant business from the moment he entered the fray last night and Locke followed suit.

After a strong Vatuvei kick return, Mateo released Locke, who flung a one handed offload to Jerome Ropati, who came up with an equally astute pass to Vatuvei, the winger confidently beating Robinson on his outside in the 32nd minute.

The next was almost a carbon copy - Mateo releasing Locke who fed Vatuvei, again brushing past Robinson with ease.

The game was still in the balance early in the second half before a Johnson wonder show broke the game open. The first was dubious - Rapira threw the ball forward before the halfback stepped through - but there was a sense of justice done, after the Raiders benefited from several harsh decisions in the clash in Canberra earlier this year.

Three minutes later Johnson again demonstrated his poacher's instinct - his lateral vision is among the best in the NRL - to snaffle an intercept, not breaking out of fourth gear as he ran 70 metres to score. He created the third for himself, reaching his own grubber, to seal the result with 24 minutes to play.

It became almost a festival game after that as the home side attacked from anywhere and offloaded at will, with Simon Mannering and Ngani Laumape scoring late tries before Croker deservedly completed his hat trick at the death.

For the trainspotters it was the first time there were three hat-tricks in an NRL match since 1996, when Brett Dallas and Ben Ikin (North Sydney Bears) and Paul McGregor (Steelers) managed the feat.

Warriors 50 (E. Taylor, M. Vatuvei 3, S. Johnson 3, S. Mannering, N. Laumape tries; S. Johnson 7 goals) Raiders 16 (J. Croker 3 tries; Croker 2 goals). HT: 20-12.

- Herald on Sunday

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