The New Zealand Warriors have kept their NRL finals ambitions alive with a 40-22 victory over a Bulldogs side that gave away freebies on and off the field at ANZ Stadium.
Winger Manu Solomona scored three of the visiting side’s eight tries as they recorded three successive wins for the first time this season and notched their first victory ever at ANZ Stadium.
They remained just a point outside the top eight but conceded the first 16 points of the second half after opening up a 30-6 lead at the break.
Bulldogs winger Hazem El Masri scored two tries and kicked three goals to get within 32 points of breaking Andrew Johns’ all-time competition pointscoring record.
The Bulldogs offer of free entry to passport holders from New Zealand was taken up by 2893 people almost a quarter of the total attendance of 12,973 spectators.
They also gave away plenty of freebies on the field as well, missing 27 tackles in the first half.
The crowd didn’t see one of the men associated with the initiative, the Bulldogs New Zealand-born forward Sonny Bill Williams, who was a late withdrawal with a back injury.
The win was set up by an early three-try onslaught which gave them a 16-0 lead after just 13 minutes.
Centre Sonny Fai crossed after just 82 seconds as the Warriors had the first five sets and it was more than six minutes before the Bulldogs had their first.
Impressive fullback Lance Hohaia and winger Aidan Kirk also crossed during the early onslaught and when winger Malo Solomona crossed for the first of his two tries, it was 20-0 after 25 minutes.
El Masri was awarded a benefit of the doubt try by video referee Russell Smith after he appeared to ground the ball simultaneously with Warriors forward Simon Mannering after a kick from five-eighth Daniel Holdsworth rebounded off a post.
The Warriors reasserted their dominance within three minutes, with Sam Rapira sprinting 30 metres for the visitors’ fifth try and Solomona completed a miserable half for the Bulldogs by notching his second try less than two minutes from the break.
The Bulldogs played with much greater commitment in the second half but the Warriors execution dipped significantly.
Tries to winger Heka Nanai, El Masri and lock Reni Matua helped slash the deficit to just eight points with eight minutes remaining.
Any doubt over the result was erased four minutes from the end, when former Bulldogs champion Steve Price crashed over for the visitors’ seventh try, with Solomona completing his hat-trick in the dying seconds.
Warriors coach Ivan Cleary said while his team’s first half performance was pretty good they made what should have been a comfortable night a lot harder than it should have been.
“That’s probably a thing that is a little disappointing, we’re doing some good things, but letting ourselves down, maybe they got a bit excited,” Cleary said.
Price, who is relieved at scoring his first try of the season, took some encouragement from the way the Warriors finished off the game.
“To the boys’ credit, we came back with a couple of tries at the end, something we probably didn’t do four weeks ago, we got into a bit of a rut and stayed in it,” Price said.
“It’s a good sign, but it’s also a bad sign, that we let 30 minutes go before we did it.”
Solomona, 21, carried his prolific try scoring efforts in lower grades last season to the top flight, scoring his first senior grade tries in his third appearance.
“It was a good feeling to score one but to score three is awesome,” Solomona said.
Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes and captain Andrew Ryan both felt the Warriors took their foot off the pedal in the second half and were critical of their team’s defensive effort.
“If you want to take some positives out of it, the fact we actually put them under a bit of pressure in the second half and defended much better, we just didn’t seem to want to put our bodies on the line in the first half,” Folkes said.
Forward Ryan said the Bulldogs were “way off the mark” in the first half and have been beaten in all the basic elements including enthusiasm.
“We were just way off the pace, it showed on the scoreboard,” Ryan said.
Folkes expected Williams to be fit for next week, but said hooker Corey Hughes could be in doubt with a rib injury.
Players and officials from both teams reacted positively to the promotion.
Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg said he was happy with the outcome and would look at other similar initiatives.
NZ WARRIORS 40 (M Solomona 3 S Fai A Kirk L Hohaia S Rapira S Price tries L Hohaia 4 goals)
BULLDOGS 22 (H El Masri 2 H Nanai R Maitua tries H El Masri 3 goals)