The Warriors managed to repel a second-half comeback from the under-strength North Queensland Cowboys to secure a much-needed 35-18 win at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland last night, but not before making coach Brian McClennan sweat from the sideline.
With four of their top stars – Johnathan Thurston, James Tamou, Matt Scott and Brent Tate – ruled out due to State of Origin commitments, the in-form Cowboys were always going to struggle.
But after trailing 22-12 at the break, the Cowboys started the second half strongly and were soon within four points of a Warriors side that really should have put them to the sword.
For periods in a tense second half, it looked as if the Warriors were about to squander a solid lead and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as they did a fortnight ago against the Sharks.
But this time around, they kept their composure, held the visitors at bay and eventually scored a decisive try through Nathan Friend with just over 10 minutes on the clock to secure the win, much to their coach's relief.
"The Cowboys went through that period and I thought they had the momentum in a big way," McClennan said, referring to the early stages of the second half.
"They were winning territory with their kicks, playing quick and following on. They were playing a bit fast for us.
"Through that period there, I thought, 'Jeez, we're in trouble here'.
"At that stage, the penalty count was 4-1 and we got a penalty. That's when we ended up going up, getting some territory and we got three repeat sets in a row, broke the ice and got a flood of points."
Against an inexperienced Cowboys side which wasn't helped by the early loss of talented halfback Ray Thompson to a shoulder injury, the Warriors were indeed the better side.
Better, but a long way from perfect, and in a second half, where the Cowboys came to life, they very nearly lost this one before setting Mt Smart Stadium alight in the final 10 minutes.
On attack, the Warriors were dangerous – playmaker Shaun Johnson, in particular, turning on a brilliant display when the situation called for someone to stand tall.
But defensively, the Warriors continue to have issues out wide and a better Cowboys side may have made this more of a contest than it was.
Johnson was satisfied with his own performance, and admitted his poor showing against the Sharks had propelled him to deliver when the pressure was on yesterday.
"I felt I went pretty well," he said. "I was trying to be in every play and I just wanted to be competitive for the full 80 and I felt I did that."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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