If there was any doubt about the Warriors’ playoff credentials this season, there can’t be now.
This was brutal, beautiful and bewitching.
They have delivered plenty of statement performances this season, but this was one of the most emphatic. Maybe even the best.
A day after the All Blacks created havoc against South Africa at Mt Smart Stadium, the Warriors demolished the Cronulla Sharks 44-12 on Sunday afternoon.
It doesn’t get much better than this. Eight tries, against the fourth-placed Sharks? The crowd of 24,012 was in dreamland.
Across this season, there have been lingering questions about the Warriors’ ability to compete against heavyweight teams – but surely not any more.
After a slow first quarter, the home side simply monstered the Sharks. If they weren’t barging the front door down, they were sliding through out wide.
It was expansive, efficient and highly effective, and Cronulla looked stunned by the end.
AD: Stay true to your team til the end, all the NRL options are at tab.co.nz. Bet responsibly.
In this form, the Warriors could match any team, though the intensity went out of the contest with 25 minutes to play.
The result takes the Warriors into fourth-equal on the table, ahead of Friday’s clash with the Canberra Raiders.
Shaun Johnson rounded out an eventful week with another signature performance, but there were stars everywhere. Props Addin Fonua-Blake and Mitch Barnett laid the platform in the first half, the spine was impressive – with Wayde Egan running the show from dummy half - and Rocco Berry had a productive night.
Just like in round five, the Sharks looked sharp from the start, with the depth and direction provided by Matt Moylan and Nicho Hynes.
They went close twice, with good stops by Luke Metcalf and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, before Hynes pierced the defence out wide in the ninth minute.
The visitors dominated the opening 20 minutes, as the Warriors struggled for fluidity.
There were a couple of cheap penalties – and moments of indecision – while Cronulla were winning the ruck.
But the Warriors eventually sparked to life, then caught fire.
The injection of Dylan Walker, as we have seen so often this campaign, was vital. The utility added punch and deception, and soon afterwards, a brilliant set move with Johnson and Nicoll-Klokstad led to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak for his 14th try of the season.
The Warriors then put the hammer down. They scored three tries in a sizzling six-minute burst, and all of them were beauties.
First, Berry crashed over off a perfect Johnson pass, as decoy runners created confusion. They were soon back on attack – thanks to a sweeping Johnson 40-20 kick – before Fonua-Blake carried three defenders over the line with sheer brute strength.
The Tongan prop is having the season of his life, with his post-contact metres complemented by a remarkable six tries. The coup de grace came when Metcalf sprinted in under the posts after Egan split the defence.
Metcalf was narrowly denied a second – a fraction offside as he scooped up a Johnson grubber – before Marcelo Montoya put his body on the line to deny Sione Katoa in the corner.
Cronulla looked for a response after the interval and prop Thomas Hazelton was unfortunate not to score a spectacular runaway try – after he burgled a Johnson chip – as the bunker found a knock-on.
The Sharks had momentum, but the Warriors absorbed the pressure, with Johnson managing a try-saving tackle on Ronaldo Mulitalo before the home side accelerated through the gears again.
Berry sent Nicoll-Klokstad under the posts, before Josh Curran forced his way over off a Johnson pass. Then came a second Watene-Zelezniak try, after more slick hands continued the party, before Will Kennedy grabbed a consolation. But Adam Pompey had the final say to round out a magical evening.
Warriors 44 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2, Rocco Berry, Addin Fonua-Blake, Luke Metcalf, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Josh Curran, Adam Pompey tries; Shaun Johnson 5, Luke Metcalf goals)
Sharks 12 (Nicho Hynes, Will Kennedy tries; Nicho Hynes 2 con)