David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Patched-up Warriors bounce back

Warriors 26 Dragons 10
Issac Luke and Jazz Tevaga of the Warriors celebrate after winning the round nine NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons. Photo / Getty Images.
Issac Luke and Jazz Tevaga of the Warriors celebrate after winning the round nine NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons. Photo / Getty Images.

A patched-up Warriors side exorcised some of the demons of a miserable past week and broke an 11-game, nine-season losing streak against St George Illawarra, with a cathartic NRL victory at Mt Smart Stadium today.

The result was always going to go one of two ways: The Warriors would collapse further under the immense strain of a drama-filled week, in which six of their best players were dropped for breaking team protocol following their insipid 42-0 Anzac Day defeat to Melbourne, or they would find the mettle and resolve to bounce back and produce the gutsy kind of effort that fans have been crying out to see.

The 12,752 strong crowd of masochists got the latter, thankfully, with first-half tries to Shaun Johnson, Matt Allwood, Charlie Gubb helping them to a 18-10 halftime lead, after the Dragons managed two four-pointers to Euan Aitken and Kalifa Faifai Loa.

As they did against Melbourne, the Warriors again looked frail on the edges and struggled to defend errors and were fortunate the visitors were denied three tries, with the bunker overturning two first half efforts for obstruction.

But improved goal-line defence in the second-half, and unforced errors and penalties from the Dragons surrendered momentum, before Jeff Robson scored inside the last quarter and a 75th minute penalty to Johnson sealed the result.

Relief was the overwhelming emotion felt by coach Andrew McFadden, who was more satisfied by the grit shown by his players rather than the securing of two much-needed competition points.

"I just wanted to show out some spirit and character because it's been a tough week," he said.

"Probably not many people understand how big a week that was for the players and how much pressure they were under.

"It was never going to be all smooth sailing for us and it wasn't but we had to show the desperation."

"But as a group we need to make sure we build some resolve out of this."

Already missing the strike-power and leadership of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Simon Mannering and Tui Lolohea, and the talents of five of the ill-disciplined group - Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino, and Bodene Thompson, and young front-rowers Sam Lisone and Albert Vete - that were out until 3am midweek, the Warriors were dealt yet another blow pre-game, with Thomas Leuluai ruled out with a hamstring injury.

But replacement five-eighth Robson, rookie fullback David Fusitu'a and others thrown a lifeline - Tevaga, James Gavet, and fill-ins Sione Lousi, John Palavi and Matt Allwood, and 21-year-old debutante Toafofoa Sipley - were all committed, while Issac Luke responded to his bench demotion with an expected and much improved running and defensive game.

"They came in and gave us some energy and performed very well," said McFadden. "They were terrific, so it was very pleasing."

Almost anything would have been an improvement on last week's humiliating result, and the fact today's match ended in a victory is in many ways, a bonus, and an unexpected one, given the weight of history against them.

The Warriors have numerous bogey teams, it seems, but if there is one side that represents a large monkey clinging to their back, it has been the fire-breathing Dragons.

The win, just their fourth of the season, is the Warriors first triumph over the Red V since 2007, just their second in 18 matches, and only their fifth in 24 games since their first encounter back in 1995.

Now occupying 10th spot on the premiership ladder, the Warriors have a chance to come up for air to enjoy a timely break from the spotlight during next week's representative round, before looking ahead to their next game against Penrith in Christchurch on May 14.

They also have the luxury of remaining in New Zealand for the next six weeks, with a round 11 game against Canberra in New Plymouth, a bye week, and a home game against Brisbane, before an appointment with the struggling Knights at Hunter Stadium on June 11.

Today's win was a step in the right direction, but getting his side to maintain this standard is the ongoing challenge for McFadden.

Warriors 26 (Shaun Johnson, Matt Allwood, Charlie Gubb, Jeff Robson tries, Johnson 4 cons, 1 pen)

Dragons 10 (Euan Aitken, Kalifa Faifai Loa tries, Widdop pen)

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