Warriors get back-to-back wins, lose Ropati
With the ink still drying on his one-year contract extension, Jerome Ropati was close to tears after suffering yet another serious knee injury, but the Warriors confirmed they had turned the corner with last night's intense victory over the Sydney Roosters.
It was hard not to feel empathy for the injury-prone Ropati, who just this week put pen to paper. Early predictions were a dislocated knee which could put the dejected veteran out for the season.
One man down, the Warriors were forced to display true grit and determination in the face of a physical ambush in the heated encounter at Mt Smart Stadium.
Ropati's departure caused a first-half backline reshuffle. James Maloney moved to unfamiliar role at fullback and Feleti Mateo switched to five-eight. The Warriors couldn't have dealt with it much better.
Ropati's injury means the club will sweat on the return of fullback Kevin Locke, though Glen Fisiiahi is hanging out for another chance after scoring 18 tries – including four hat-tricks – for the Vulcans this year.
It was a quality two-try outing from hulking centre Konrad Hurrell, plus a brace from superstar halfback Shaun Johnson, the instigator of a second-half revival, that led the Warriors to their first back-to-back wins of the season.
After trouncing the Rabbitohs, pushing the Storm for 70-minutes and then ending the Broncos' six-match undefeated run last week, there were suspicions the Warriors had found their mojo.
It took them a while to wear down the Chooks last night, and it was never a sure thing, but in trying circumstances, their fifth victory could propel a top-eight charge, with State of Origin set to test Australian resources.
The Roosters were under the pump in the early exchanges, but that didn't stop the visitors striking first, through a controversial try, awarded to Joseph Leilua on the basis he had "simultaneous grounding" with Alehana Mara.
Unsurprisingly, the 16,202 locals weren't impressed with video referee Bernard Sutton.
A Ropati fumble gave the Roosters further momentum with Aidan Guerra punishing the mistake to make it two strikes in two minutes.
But the Warriors didn't drop their bundle. After being held up earlier in the half, Hurrell emphasised his star-in-the-making potential by showing surprising gas to stand-up Anthony Minichiello in a 60-metre try, his blow-kiss celebration sealing the burst. And there was one more impressive effort to carry three defenders over the line to secure his double and a 12-10 half-time advantage.
The boys from Bondi mounted several second half comebacks with debutant wing Tautau Moga breaking a weak Maloney tackle and Kiwis enforced Jared Waerea-Hargreaves dotting down.
Minichiello's late try could have turned the match on its head and caused a collective heart attack, but the Warriors, as they did all night, held firm to rebuff the final onslaught.
Brian McClennan's men proved they have begun find their groove.
Johnson's double and a classic take from Manu Vatuvei sealed the result and extracted revenge for the thumping they took in Sydney earlier in the season.
Warriors 30 (Konrad Hurrell 2, Shaun Johnson 2, Manu Vatuvei tries; James Maloney 5 gls) Sydney Roosters 26 (Joseph Leilua, Aidan Guerra, Tautau Moga, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Anthony Minichiello tries; Braith Anasta 2 gls) Ht: 12-10
Sunday Star Times