The 2023 New Zealand Warriors laugh in the face of danger.
For a team who have in recent years curled up when things got tough, the Andrew Webster era has seen an abrupt change in the team’s ability to fight through adversity and hit back harder.
The latest example: a 16-14 win against the Bulldogs at Mt Smart Stadium in which they trailed early, and by more than a try in the second half, but came back to win.
There was plenty of good to take away for the Warriors as they completed 88 per cent of their sets, had more possession and spent plenty of time in Bulldogs territory.
Shaun Johnson was assured in possession, always looking like a chance to attack the line and making it count when he did, setting the platform for a patient win, while the forwards did an almighty job – particularly on defence with everyone in the pack, or appearing off the bench, making plenty of tackles.
The match did, however, follow a familiar pattern. For the fourth time in as many games this season, the Warriors were slow out of the blocks and conceded a try inside the opening 10 minutes to find themselves down.
While they held the Bulldogs largely in check for the majority of the game, the visitors gladly took the opportunities the Warriors handed to them. Both of the Bulldogs tries came from Warriors lapses; the first chance was presented after a penalty welcomed the Bulldogs into an attacking position, before Marcelo Montoya missed a one-on-one tackle at the end of the set which allowed Bulldogs centre Jake Averillo to offload to Jake Kiraz to score.
The second came off the back of a questionable refereeing decision that saw a Warriors try ruled out. Adam Pompey appeared to have scored after being stripped of the ball by Viliame Kikau, but the play was ruled out as a knock on by the bunker and the Bulldogs were awarded a scrum. With their minds seemingly elsewhere, the Warriors saw a simple backline move quickly become an 80m try for wing Josh Addo-Carr.
But with Webster hammering the idea of persistence into his side, it is clearly getting through. The Warriors stayed composed after their errors and continued to plug away at the Bulldogs defence.
Eventually, that pressure paid off through Montoya, who crossed in the corner, before Johnson ran in under the posts 10 minutes later, then converted to give the home side the lead.
While there appeared to be a hint of an obstruction in the build-up as an Addin Fonua-Blake run appeared to potentially impede Bulldogs hooker Reed Mahoney, there was no reaction from the visitors when Johnson crashed over, and Mahoney said after the game he felt he didn’t have a play on Johnson anyway.
There was more to the tale yet. The Bulldogs launched a number of dangerous attacks, and the 18,595 fans at Mt Smart Stadium would have felt their heart rates increase when Jackson Ford gave away a repeat set on the final tackle while the Warriors were camped on their own goal line.
With a full set inside enemy territory, the Bulldogs couldn’t strike, and the Warriors went on to close out a memorable home win.
Warriors 16 (Viliami Vailea, Marcelo Montoya, Shaun Johnson tries; Johnson 2 cons)
Bulldogs 14 (Jacob Kiraz, Josh Addo-Carr tries; Matt Burton 2 cons, pen)