If this was the signature performance of an Andrew Webster coached team, we’ll take it.
Webster has demanded resilience from his Warriors squad and they brought plenty on Friday night, outlasting the Newcastle Knights 20-12 in a spirited contest.
It was the ideal start to a new era, as they had to work extremely hard for the victory, which will derive extra satisfaction.
It was far from perfect for the Warriors – as they failed to make the most of several good opportunities either side of halftime – but their defensive grit was outstanding.
That was the ultimate difference, as they repelled as series of dangerous Newcastle raids when they held a slender 14-12 advantage, before Wayde Egan’s 73rd minute try iced the match.
The Knights had earlier survived a 10-minute second half spell shorthanded after a sinbin, then lost Kalyn Ponga at a crucial late stage for a head injury assessment.
But the Warriors deserved the win. After conceding a try in the first minute their line was only crossed once more, while they responded with four tries of their own.
The new recruits made an impact, with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad particularly strong at the back. Dylan Walker lived up to his billing, while Te Maire Martin had some important touches. But the result was built on sheer effort – with Tohu Harris the pick of a workmanlike pack – while the edge defence was a significant improvement on last season.
The attack was sweet and sour but when the spine clicked, the potential was there. The Warriors will face better teams than the Knights this season, but they now have something to build on.
After all the buildup, it was an anti-climactic start, with Knights back rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon crossing after Nicoll-Klokstad had spilt a bomb. The try was created by Ponga, who made the defensive line hesitate, before Fitzgibbon brushed past Shaun Johnson and Adam Pompey.
The Knights looked sharp, though lost State of Origin representative Tyson Frizzell to concussion in the 14th minute.
The Warriors had a messy first quarter – struggling to make inroads against swift line speed – but finally got going with Ed Kosi’s 25th minute try. It came after a wonderful Harris ball to put Mitch Barnett in a gaping hole and finished with Shaun Johnson making space for Kosi in the corner.
That was the spark. There was more soon afterwards, with Walker setting Johnson free with his first touch, before Bunty Afoa bulldozed over near the posts. Walker delivered the impact Webster had promised and there was some vintage Warriors play for a few minutes, with offloads and flick passes at pace. Marata Niukore was held up, before other chances went begging, either from the final pass not sticking or strong Knights defence.
The visitors started faster in the second half – pinning the Warriors in their own territory – before Ponga set up Hymel Hunt in the corner.
The Auckland team responded through Nicholl-Klokstad’s impressive try, made by a change of pace from Martin and a clever run from Brayden Wiliame. Josh Curran, and Johnson went close, before Knights prop Adam Elliott was lucky to escape the sin bin, after a late shoulder charge on Walker.
The Knights were then reduced to 12 soon afterwards with Phoenix Crossland binned, before Egan was forced off for a period after a heavy tackle.
Then came the turning points. A spectacular Nicoll-Klokstad tackle on Ponga saved a certain try. Bradman Best was repelled against considerable odds, before Hunt was stopped by Kosi and Pompey when he looked certain to score.
A strong play from Martin then forced a turnover, before Egan – who had just returned – slipped across from close range, to the jubilation of the 14,000 strong crowd.
Warriors 20 (Ed Kosi, Bunty Afoa, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Wayde Egan tries; Shaun Johnson 2 cons)
Knights 12 (Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Hymel Hunt tries; Jackson Hastings 2 cons)