Warriors bounce back with win over Knights
Two tries in two second half minutes have handed the Warriors a 28-12 bounce back victory over the Knights at Mt Smart Stadium today.
The five-try victory, easily the Warriors classiest of the year, will ease the pressure on coach Matt Elliott and the club's front office - who have been under the gun for the side's poor season thus far.
Offload king Feleti Mateo and fullback Kevin Locke, returning into action after two weeks out injured, were the home side's standouts.
Both played their best game of the season - inventive throughout, providing their side attacking opportunities they've missed so far this season.
Elliott has constantly complained over poor decisions by the match officials over recent weeks - but for once, the Warriors got the rub of the refereeing green today.
A first half James McManus try was disallowed due to Willie Mason obstruction - though Sam Rapira's second half four-pointer was allowed - despite prop Jacob Lillyman being in the obvious road of a Knights defender.
The Rapira try was the game's turning point, with Warriors skipper Simon Mannering crossing the line just a minute later to extend the home side's lead out to ten points.
While they tried hard in remainder of the second stanza, the Knights, led by the exciting Kurt Gidley, weren't able to haul their hosts in - who posted just their third win, in 11 attempts, this season.
The Warriors came into the match with their worst ever loss - a 62-6 thumping by the Panthers - at their back next week, and improvement sought across the board.
Their opponents, in contrast, had their tails in the air - with a 44-8 demolition job of the Bulldogs seven days ago.
And while the Knights have struggled away from Newcastle of late, with only four wins in their last 15 away matches, the good money was on them making it two from two in Auckland in their last two attempts.
The Warriors were handed the perfect start, when standoff Jarrod Mullen raked the ball out of Mateo's arms in only the second minute.
The ensuing penalty would hand the Warriors an attacking set only 15 metres out from their opponent's line - with giant winger Manu Vatuvei going over after a well-worked backline move sparked by a Russell Packer offload.
The Knights nearly responded straight away with fullback Darius Boyd releasing James McManus to go over in the left hand corner.
However, hulking prop Willie Mason was judged to have obstructed Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson from tackling Boyd - and the try was denied by the video referee.
The 9257-strong Mt Smart Stadium crowd would come to life five minutes later, when Packer and Knights prop Kade Snowden traded punches after a hard tackle.
While Packer managed to land some blows worthy of Kiwi UFC stars Mark Hunt and James Te Huna, who were at the very same time taking to the Octagon in Las Vegas, it was a moment that would cost his team.
McManus would go over on the set coming from the penalty; a try delivered by a sublime cross-field kick from Mullen.
Perhaps the hits knocked some sense out of Snowden - with the prop handing the Warriors their next attacking raid when he dropped the ball in a tackle after 24 minutes.
Standoff Thomas Leuluai would score from the resulting set - which featured a stunning offload by Mateo, a smart goal line pass by Ben Matulino and a try-scoring dive from Leuluai resembling a play from gridiron movie Any Given Sunday.
In his only real mistake of the game, Mateo would lose the ball only 30 metres out from his own line with ten minutes to go in the half.
The Knights would make the talented second rower pay, with McManus bagging a double with some fancy footwork on the left-hand touch line.
While the Warriors applied pressure early in the second half, the final tackle options - especially through Leuluai - were poor.
Rapira would score his controversial try - followed up by Mannering. The skipper's four-pointer was a beauty - coming from a Shaun Johnson spiral bomb and excellent follow-up work by Locke.
Gidley attempted to rally his troops, launching two notable raids down the Warriors right side of defence, but the Knights were unable to break through the scrappy home team's tacklers.
Johnson would release Elijah Taylor late in the second half to rub salt in the wound for the Knights.
Warriors 28 (M Vatuvei, T Leuluai, S Rapira, S Mannering, E Taylor tries; S Johnson 4 goals) beat Knights 12 (J McManus 2 tries; K Gidley 2 goals)