New Zealand Warriors fans are cheering after a comprehensive win over the Penrith Panthers gifting them their first finals appearance since 2011.
The Warriors, who have been notoriously poor finishers in the past few seasons have bucked the trend in a big way in 2018.
Led by winger David Fusitu’a who scored a hat-trick – and getting close to Francis Meli’s best season total of 23 tries by a Warriors player, they were in cruise control.
The points flowed early for the Warriors, as Shaun Johnson calmly slotted a penalty goal to put the Warriors up 2-0.
Agnatius Paasi scored a rare try, dummying opposite number Reagan Campbell-Gillard to score from dummy half.
A sweeping back-line play soon followed as Fusitu’a scored his 19th try of the season.
It went from bad to worse for Campbell-Gillard; a crucial miss on Mason Lino saw the replacement half glide past him and over to score for an 18-0 lead.
Some deft soccer skills by Josh Mansour before he eventually regathered for a try gave the Panthers some hope.
That was soon dashed, however, as the sheer weight of possession saw the Warriors score a fourth try.
It was Fusitu’a again for his 20th try of the season, as he crashed over to score.
His 21st and hat-trick came soon after when he was there to receive a pass after an initial Shaun Johnson bust.
Two late consolations to Waqa Blake and Trent Merrin gave the Penrith faithful something to cheer about.
However, it will do little to stem the tide and the worrying concern of poor starts that have littered their 2018 season.
To make matters worse, Penrith will be without centre Dean Whare for up to a month with an arm injury and Wayde Egan will also undergo scans for possible medial damage.
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney has not been afraid to tell his players what he thinks as he had nothing but praise for Shaun Johnson.
“Quite honestly, I thought that was Shaun’s best performance of the year,” said Kearney.
“What pleased me the most was the way he defended to be honest.
They’re not an easy team on that side with [Viliame] Kikau and [Waqa] Blake, they’d put anyone under pressure, but I thought Shaun did really well.
“I think he’s been pretty consistent for most of the year.
“I thought he was good last week [in the one point loss to the Bulldogs] on the attaching side of the game but tonight he really just took charge of what we needed him to do.”
Panthers coach Cameron Ciraldo tried to remain optimistic despite a largely poor performance.
‘We were doing some good things out there,” Ciraldo said.
“You know the scoreline didn’t show that but, it was good to finish the game off like that.”
Player of the Game:
3. Shaun Johnson
2. David Fusitu’a
- Agnatius Paasi