New Zealand Warriors 19
Cronulla Sharks 18
What a sweet way to end a hoodoo – and keep your NRL season alive.
The Warriors have finally beaten the Sharks, after four consecutive losses to the Sydney team, and did it courtesy of a late field goal, after their well publicised dramas in that area.
Blake Green's first one pointer of his NRL career was enough to get the Warriors home 19-18 and spoil Shaun Johnson's homecoming.
The result will be a massive relief for the Warriors, who completely dominated possession and territory. They were camped at the Sharks end for most of the match, with 60 per cent of the ball, and the Sydney side were forced to make almost 100 more tackles.
There were question marks over two of the Cronulla tries, but the Sharks made their own luck, with swift, energetic attack and resolute defence.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was the standout in a true captain's knock, while Green had a busy game – probably inspired by the presence of Johnson – and the forwards worked well as a unit against their opposites.
It was a drastically reshuffled Warriors lineup. Ken Maumalo didn't pass his tests around concussion protocols and David Fusitu'a picked up a hamstring injury during the captain's run on Thursday.
Blake Ayshford came in for Fusitu'a, while Wesley College product Adam Pompey became the 237th man to play first grade for the Warriors.
With all the talk around Johnson, it took just eight minutes for the former Warriors' favourite to make his mark, as he drew in the defensive line before putting Briton Nikora across. In a disturbing early sign, the Warriors seemed mesmerised. The Kiwis half didn't do anything spectacular, but it was the thought of what he might do that set the Warriors on their heels.
It got worse four minutes later, as Chad Townsend finished off a Matt Moylan break. The try was highly questionable, and one can already sense an apology script being prepared at NRL headquarters, as Bronson Xerri appeared to propel the ball forward intentionally, before flicking it to Townsend.
Just as it looked like it could turn a bit ugly, the Auckland team found some momentum. It came from a series of direct charges, before Issac Luke created space for Green, who surprised everyone with an angled 25 metre run to the line.
But the limitations of the Warriors' attack were illustrated again, as they couldn't profit from five consecutive sets on the Sharks, with a lack of invention and angles.
They were hampered by inaccurate passing and poor handling, though the slippery conditions on typical Wellington winter's night made it tough.
Luke and Lachlan Burr went close early in the second half, as the Warriors continued their dominance. By the 50th minute mark of the match, the Sharks had spent 75 per cent of the match in their own half but looked unbreakable.
That was encapsulated when the Warriors settled for a penalty shot at goal, after almost constant pressure. To rub salt in the wound, the Sharks then scored on their first visit to Warriors territory in the second half, Sosaia Feki showing remarkable strength to force the ball despite a heavy tackle from Tuivasa-Sheck.
But the Warriors finally got reward for their efforts through a dogged individual try from Kodi Nikorima in the 62nd minute, after a Tuivasa-Sheck burst had put his team on the front foot.
There was another twist when Andrew Fitifa was sinbinned after a cynical shoulder charge on Burr, which allowed Chanel Harris Tavita to draw the Warriors level.
It led to a frenetic final 10 minutes, with several opportunities, before Green slotted a field goal with five minutes to go.
Warriors 19 (B Green, K Nikorima tries; I Luke con, 2 pens; C Harris-Tavita con, pen; B Green field goal)
Sharks 18 (B Nikora, C Townsend, S Feki tries; S Johnson 3 cons)