Warriors show top-eight steel
Is this Warriors side the real deal?
The club that hasn’t been in the top eight for two years should find themselves sitting pretty just inside the sacred eight after a hard-fought 30-20 win against the table-topping Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland yesterday.
The game, in front of a crowd of 12,800, was played at a frenetic pace and it was not until crowd favourite Shaun Johnson scored a runaway try with seven minutes to go that Warriors fans would have been able to relax.
The Warriors had lost their last three games against the Panthers, including a humiliating 62-6 defeat last year, one of the club’s darkest days.
But the Warriors’ resilient defence, and inaccurate kicking by Penrith, meant the Warriors never needed to worry about a whitewash.
For the Warriors, Manu Vatuvei, who seems to be in some of his best form in recent years, was a standout both in defence and under high balls and also in his scintillating attack. Feleti Mateo again sparked a number of plays through the middle and Sam Tomkins proved reliable as ever at the back.
But again, the men of the moment were Konrad Hurrell, who scored two tries, and Shaun Johnson, who scored a try and converted five, including three from the sideline.
For the Panthers, Dean Whare from Bay of Plenty caused all sorts of headaches for the Warriors’ outside backs, as did the dancing feet of James Segeyaro and Tyrone Peachey.
Injury played havoc with both sides, the Warriors losing Jason Bukuya and Nathan Friend with concussion, while the Panthers lost their main playmaker, Jamie Soward, just before halftime.
The first 20 minutes was a Warriors onslaught with the Panthers having only completed one of four sets in that time. The Warriors, on the other hand, were completing close to 90 per cent of their sets.
Hurrell dived over in the right corner in the tackle of Jamal Idris after just 21⁄ minutes.
The Panthers didn’t get their first hitup until five minutes into the game and Manu Vatuvei danced over in the 14th minute after a series of bullet-like passes saw him able to dodge any scrambling Panthers defenders. But the Panthers woke up and Peachey put Jamie Soward over 15 minutes before halftime.
The next Panthers try seemed all too easy, with Josh Mansour jogging over, and then a Matt Moylan try just before halftime seeing the visitors go into the break up by four.
The Warriors came busting out of the gates in the second half with captain Simon Mannering barrelling over in the tackle of Panthers’ captain Peter Wallace after about seven minutes and Johnson’s radar boot struck again.
The Panthers refused to go down without a fight, with Segeyaro sprinting over for a try with 15 to go.
The Warriors held their cool with a last-gasp try to Hurrell, who forced the ball just before the dead-ball line, before the Johnson try sealed the game.
Beastly best: Manu Vatuvei dots down during an impressive game for the Warriors in their 30-20 win over the Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland yesterday.