By PETER JESSUP and NZPA
The likelihood that the Warriors will lose second-rower Logan Swann to a high-tackle suspension this week was the only blot on the side's 22-10 win over the Canberra Raiders.
Swann maintains his right arm first made contact with prop Luke Davico's shoulder before slipping up to what looked a hit likely to bring a grade-two high shot charge.
That was in the first spell on Saturday night; in the second, he put a similar one on Darren Mapp. Both are likely to attract the attention of judicial commissioner Jim Hall.
The Warriors were vastly improved from the team who slumped to defeat against the Cowboys in Townsville. Swann, Monty Betham and Awen Guttenbeil kept the Raiders pack quiet, while prop Ali Lauiti'iti and Jerry SeuSeu made the yards.
But it was probably Stacey Jones' kicking game that made the most impact. He pushed the Raiders back time and again.
The targeting of Raiders wings Odell Manuel and Greg Wolfgramm also paid big dividends. Both were caught badly out of position and forced into repeated error.
The Raiders failed to react to that. They also failed to take advantage of the extra weight the Warriors carried defensively down their right side. The Canberra ruck continually slid down Jones' side when forays the other way would have paid dividends.
The first half was mistake-ridden as rain drove across the Manuka Oval. Each side had an early touchdown disallowed by the video referee, John Goucher.
Swann had the first try after 12 minutes following a dummy runaround with Jones. Mark McLinden replied for the Raiders two minutes later when Kiwi Ruben Wiki offloaded in the tackle and changed the direction of the attack.
But the Raiders could not mount any sustained pressure. Near the Warriors line, they fluffed everything. Half Brett Finch three times dropped the dummy-half ball from his captain Simon Woolford. There was little wrong with the passes.
A Jones try off SeuSeu and two goals to Ivan Cleary, at fullback to beat their high-ball woes, made it 12-6 at the break. The Warriors had won all five previous games where they had held a lead at halftime.
The home side snagged a try to Wellingtonian Sione Faumuina when Jason Crocker ran at Jones, then let the pass go. But when Goucher ruled, to everyone's surprise, that Jason Death had reached the chalk from a dummy-half run, Cleary converted and at 18-10 the Warriors looked the side with the confidence, the options and the muscle.
Motu Tony had a last-minute try when he beat the cover to a kick and at 22-10, four tries to two, the Warriors were back in the top eight.
The plan to kick at Manuel and Wolfgramm was devised after the start when coach Daniel Anderson and assistant Tony Kemp added up the plays that made early ground. The pair expected Raiders coach Mal Meninga to adjust his game-plan, but when he didn't, they persisted.
The Warriors have decided to move their focus off the top-eight cutoff. They feel finals pressure may have over-burdened them the past two weekends when they lost.
But with two home games, the Northern Eagles on Friday night and the shambles that is Wests Tigers the following weekend, there is a serious opportunity to cement their hold in the playoff group.
The club has extended the contract of wing Henry Fa'afili. He was signed through 2002 and will now be there through 2003.
Meanwhile, Bulldogs centre Nigel Vagana underlined his try-scoring reputation with three touchdowns yesterday, while Brisbane downed North Queensland to move back to the top of the NRL table.
Vagana's efforts came in the Bulldogs' 28-26 home victory over Melbourne. He went over a fourth time midway through the second half, but was called back for a forward pass.
The Kiwi and former Warrior, who now has nine tries for the season, said it was a case of following his forwards. "I think I was just in the right place at the right time. I was just backing up the big boys and they put me through."
The Storm produced two tries in the last 10 minutes, but Matt Orford saw his final conversion attempt just miss, ending new coach Mark Murray's three-match winning run.
At Parramatta Stadium, the third-placed Eels pulled away in the second half to overwhelm second-bottom Penrith 54-28.
In Brisbane, the Broncos were untroubled in recording a 50-6 win over the cellar-dwelling Cowboys, whose coach, Tim Sheens, had confirmed his resignation mid-week. The result put the defending champions above Newcastle on points difference.
The Knights, who had won their last eight matches, went down to the Northern Eagles 28-30 at Gosford. A missed late conversion cost them a share of the points.
By PETER JESSUP and NZPA