Warriors smash awful Raiders in Canberra
The Warriors defied the loss of Shaun Johnson for the first time in the playmaker's NRL career to stay in contention for the finals series by humiliating the struggling Raiders 54-18 in Canberra today.
Winless in their four previous matches without the Kiwis halfback, the Warriors celebrated their first win at the Raiders' home ground since 1997 to snap a two-match losing streak and improve from ninth to seventh on the competition ladder.
The winning margin generated by a 10-try rout propelled the Warriors up over Parramatta and Melbourne on points differential, but a late Canberra resurgence prevented an even greater boost.
Although the Raiders wore jerseys styled on the Incredible Hulk to mark superhero round, it was the size and strength of the Warriors that dominated from the outset, while the elusiveness of Sam Tomkins was also influential as the visitors cruised to a 28-0 halftime lead.
Canberra's left edge defence - already the worst in the competition with 28 tries conceded in that corridor - was predictably exploited by the visitors with four first half tries pinpointing the flank with ruthless efficiency.
Ominously the Warriors had recorded tries in the opening three minutes of their previous four games and the Raiders only managed to delay the inevitable for another 60 seconds when Sione Lousi - a late replacement for the injured Ben Henry - powered over.
Tomkins then used his deceptive footwork to evade four defenders as the mere presence of Konrad Hurrell proved a distraction; the English fullback also instigated the Warriors' third try with a weaving run that culminated in the centre touching down following a miracle offload from Ben Matulino and neat flick on by Thomas Leuluai.
Canberra's woes were exacerbated 10 minutes from the break when Matulino's fourth try of the season was green-lighted despite a suggestion of obstruction by Feleti Mateo on Terry Campese.
However, there was no doubt Mateo played a legitimate role in the Warriors next two tries to Sam Rapira who was expertly put through holes by the ball-playing utility.
The Warriors, who crushed the Raiders 54-12 in Auckland in May, might have arrived in the Australian capital with trepidation while Johnson was resting a groin strain but Thomas Leuluai and Chad Townsend controlled the tempo throughout - a positive sign ahead of Sunday's home game with the Sharks.
A hamstring injury for Hurrell might have been an impediment but the Warriors' rearranged backline simply switched the angle of attack for Manu Vatuvei's flank where the club's record try-scorer emerged from a lull with a second half hat-trick that showcased his physicality - and the flimsiness of the competition's worst defence.
Vatuvei, who had been confined to one try in his six previous games, notched his treble in 14 minutes with his final instalment pushing the Warriors past the half century.
Hurrell was replaced by rookie Tuimoala Lolohea and he displayed his promise in the unfamiliar surroundings of the wing when a 25-metre pass hit Laumape at pace before he outstripped the cover defence to break up man of the match Vatuvei's sequence.
The Warriors were on track to improve to sixth ahead of North Queensland but conceded three late tries, albeit while operating a man down after coach Andrew McFadden withdrew players nursing niggles.
Josh McCrone broke the Raiders' drought with four minutes remaining before Paul Vaughan and Reece Robinson crossed in quick succession to reward the perseverance of home fans who stayed until the bitter end.
NZ Warriors 54 (Manu Vatuvei 3 Sam Rapira 2, Sione Lousi, Sam Tomkins, Konrad Hurrell, Ben Matulino, Ngani Laumape tries; Chad Townsend 7 goals) Canberra Raiders 18 (Josh McCrone, Paul Vaughan, Reece Robinson tries; Jarrod Croker 3 goals) HT: 28-0.
AS IT HAPPENED