The Warriors finished off an emotional week with a gutsy 22 – 2 win over the Tigers in their first game back at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
After a long 1038 days away from home, the Warriors played in front of their first home crowd since August 2019, a sell out with more than 26,000 supporters celebrating the first game played in New Zealand since the COVID-19 pandemic lead to the club relocating to multiple bases in Australia in order to keep the competition alive.
It was a big week for the Warriors, travelling back to New Zealand at the conclusion of the representative round. There were many media events and opportunities for fans to meet their team in the lead up to the game. The pre-game preparation was also an emotional time for the players, many seen taking in the moment in the sheds prior to walking down to the field.
The Warriors weren’t guaranteed a smooth return to Mt Smart, with fullback Reece Walsh testing positive for Covid and being ruled out of the occasion. There was also concern for enforcer Addin Fonua-Blake, who didn’t train a lot during the week due to showing some symptoms. AFB tested negative this morning though, so he was named to come off the bench, with Aaron Pene to start the game.
Both teams started well, with the Warriors looking to get on the board early through hooker Wayde Egan, only for it to be overruled by the bunker as the ball didn’t appear to be grounded. In the 25th minute, the Warriors were awarded a penalty and Shaun Johnson got them on the board with a 2 – 0 lead.
Minutes later, captain Tohu Harris went over for the first try of the game and the crowd were on their feet. Shaun Johnson added the extras, and things were looking promising for the Warriors.
Four minutes later, Chanel Harris-Tavita extended their lead when he landed on a perfectly placed kick from Shaun Johnson. The Tigers were awarded a penalty after a late tackle from Jazz Tevaga, Adam Doueihi successfully kicked the penalty, and the Warriors went into the sheds at halftime leading 14 – 2.
The second half had both teams running up the middle of the field, trying to break through the defence and get some points. With 15 minutes to go, the Warriors were given more breathing space when they were awarded another penalty, with Shaun Johnson adding the extras.
The Tigers looked set to get their first try of the day when Luke Garner went over in the final 10 minutes, but replays showed he was held up. The Warriors then hit back when Jesse Arthars scored his 12th career try with 5 minutes to go and Shaun Johnson again adding the extras, all but sealing the game in what was also Warriors favourite Bunty Afoa’s 100th game for the club, but the stats don’t end there. The last time the Warriors left an opposing team try-less was round 3 in 2020 when they played the St George Illawarra Dragons, and unfortunately for the Tigers, their bad luck continues as they have not won at Mt Smart Stadium since round 25 in 2016.
Warriors coach Stacey Jones said he was “very, very happy compared to the previous couple of weeks” with how the team performed. “It’s been a great week coming home, the excitement around the game and the players really feeling like they are at home.” Jones summed it up by saying the team “capped off a good week.”
Tigers coach Brett Kimmorley thought his side tried hard, and that “for a lot of periods there they defended the try line pretty well.”
The Warriors will have a well deserved bye in round 17, giving the squad time to spend either with family and friends or exploring their new home before heading back to Redcliffe in preparation for their clash with the Parramatta Eels at Commbank Stadium in round 18 with Reece Walsh expected to be back, meanwhile the Tigers will return to Leichhardt Oval this Saturday when they take on the Eels.
It has been said many times over the last few seasons, but again, a massive thank you to the New Zealand Warriors players, staff, management and their families. Without their sacrifices during the pandemic, no one would have been able to enjoy the game we all love.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS: 22 TRIES: T. Harris, C. Harris-Tavita, J. Arthars GOALS: S. Johnson 3/3 PENALTY GOALS: S. Johnson 2/2
WESTS TIGERS: 2 GOALS: A. Doueihi 1/1
LOZ’S STAND OUTS: C. Harris-Tavita (WAR), A. Fonua-Blake (WAR), E. Aitken (WAR), J. Hastings (WST), D. Nofoaluma (WST), J. Ofahengaue (WST)