NZ Warriors dispatch table-topping Panthers
Is this Warriors side the real deal?
The club that hasn't been in 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 this afternoon.
The game, in front of a crowd of 12,801, 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 start to relax.
The Warriors had lost the last three games against the Panthers coming into this game, including a humiliating 62-6 defeat last year, one of the club's darkest days.
But, despite at one stage going without touching the ball for 12 minutes this was never going to be a whitewash.
For the Warriors, Manu Vatuvei, who seems to be in some of his best form in recent years, was a stand out both in defence and under high balls. 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. He missed a last minute penalty after Peter Wallace took out Tomkins.
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said he was chuffed with win.
"It's pretty important going into the bye. It was a tough game and they are a really good side. They are an awkward side to play."
Captain Simon Mannering said the side knew it was not going to be an easy win and there pressure was relentless.
"They put us under a lot of pressure but coming out from half time we addressed it and it allowed us to get back on our own game."
For the Panthers Bay of Plenty boy, Dean Whare caused all sorts of headaches for the Warriors outside backs as did the dancing feet of James Segeyaro and Tyrone Peachey.
The passing of the Panthers was sublime and the team made 18 offloads during the game compared with the Warriors' eight.
Panthers' coach Ivan Cleary said his side had not started well but "the way we played the second half of the first half was pretty much exactly how we wanted to play". Cleary said his side could not build pressure in the second half.
Injury played havoc with both sides with the Warriors losing Jason Bukuya who was ruled out with concussion and Nathan Friend spent a portion of the game on the sideline. The Panthers lost their main playmaker in Jamie Soward, just before half time.
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 after the same time.
Hurrell dived over in the right corner in the tackle of Jamal Idris after just two and a half minutes.
The Panthers didn't get their first hit up until five minutes into the game and Manu Vatuvei danced over in the 14th minute.
But after a one sided affair for 20 minutes, the Panthers woke up and everything that had been going the Warriors way started to go the Panthers.
Peachey put Jamie Soward over with 15 minutes to go before the half time.
The next Panthers try seemed to come all too easy with Josh Mansour seeming to all but jog over in the left corner for his 11th try of the season. Any Warriors advantage was gone. Soward converted.
The Warriors went about 12 minutes without the ball at one stage and after leading 12-0 a Matt Moylan try just before half time saw the visitors go into the half up by four.
The Warriors came busting out of the gates in the second half with captain Simon Mannering barrelling over after in the tackle of Panthers' captain Peter Wallace after about seven minutes and Johnson's radar stuck again.
The defence of the New Zealand side also stepped up a level after half time and three straight penalties helped their cause.
The Panthers though refused to go down without a fight with Segeyaro sprinting over for a try with 15 to go.
The Warriors held their cool and a last gasp try to Hurrell,who dotted down just before the dead ball line, before the Johnson try sealed the game.
The Warriors have the bye next week before playing the Eels at home the weekend after.
McFadden said the team needed to keep winning.
"It is so congested at the top of the table there that if you have a couple of lean weeks and don't get the points you can slip down very quickly.
"We are keeping ourselves in there and giving ourselves a chance. We can go into the bye now and get a good break."