The Warriors sealed their emotional homecoming with a 22-2 win over the Wests Tigers in front of a sold-out Mt Smart Stadium.
It was the first time in eight years that the Warriors held a zero opposition at their Auckland home.
An emotional Tohu Harris led the team before a roaring crowd and appropriately the skipper scored the first try of the day.
Shaun Johnson’s boot proved to be the difference with the star half who set up two kick tries, also made three conversions and two penalty goals.
MATCH CENTERS: Warriors vs Tigers live score, stats, video
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HOMECOMING INSPIRES WARRIORS
A sold-out Mt Smart Stadium inspired the Warriors to lose a seven-game run.
It had been 1038 days since they last played at home – Round 24, 2019 – after Covid-19 forced the team to relocate to Australia.
An emotional Tohu Harris led the team into a roaring crowd and it was clear in the opening 10 minutes just how much that support meant to the Warriors, with their energy levels noticeably higher than we’ve seen in recent weeks.
“This place rocks,” said Fox League commentator Brenton Speed as the team walked out.
“Wow, that was something special. That’s the kind of semi-final experience that comes to their home country… now it’s time to play,” added Shane Flanagan.
Fittingly, Harris got the first try of the day and four minutes later Chanel Harris-Tavita scored to extend the lead.
“A hot start for the Warriors as they enter the field,” said Cooper Cronk.
“All the possession and all the emotion was really in the Warriors’ favor as they dominated the first 15-20 minutes and had multiple chances, but it was Tohu Harris who scored first and then they started showing dominance on the scoreboard.”
Desperate for their first try, the Tigers threw a lot to the Warriors in the final 10 minutes. Luke Garner almost scored and then James Roberts came close, but to the credit of the Warriors
“We haven’t seen enough of this from the Warriors all year, but it’s nice to see it today,” said Shane Flanagan.
“That just builds spirit, character and passion within the group…little things like that build and make for wins.”
JOHNSON PAYS WIN WITH ‘COMPLETE’ ACHIEVEMENTS
All eyes were on Shaun Johnson and while he didn’t set the world on fire, Greg Alexander said the star did what he had to do.
It came after Cooper Cronk and Alexander Johnson took on a pre-match challenge.
“Without (Reece) Walsh going for creativity and spark — this is on Shaun Johnson,” Cronk said.
“It’s up to Shaun Johnson to not only be that game manager, which he hasn’t done this year, but he has to turn back the clock and be that creative spark and have a day out for the Warriors.
“This is on Shaun Johnson and I expect him (to perform) because he’s been the face of the Warriors because he wasn’t home, he’s returned home, he’s around familiar faces, he’s in his comfort zone, he should be able to lead the Warriors to victory today.
“Unfortunately for him he has been under pressure for most of his career, but this is probably the most pressure he has been under. To return home I am counting on him to be the best player.”
“Reece Walsh is a big star, but we’re going to put some pressure on Shaun Johnson,” said Alexander.
“He’s been a champion in the past, he hasn’t been since he returned to the Warriors – it’s about coming home and getting back to his family. He has to deliver.”
Johnson’s cross-field kicks led to two Warriors attempts. he also got 67 running yards and a tackle bust—which was enough to get his side home.
“He had to get up today. He didn’t have to score any attempts, but he had to get his side in the park and he did and he kicked really well,” Flanagan said.
“A really complete performance from Shaun Johnson.”
“Johnson played just like the team,” said Alexander.
“We thought we needed Johnson’s full package to bring the Warriors home, but he didn’t really need to bring his running game – he had a few cracks in the Tigers’ defenses – but he played well and kicked them in position. Johnson controlled the match with his kicks.”
STAR TIGER URGES TEAM TO TAKE ‘OWNERSHIP’
The Tigers have fallen to 15th on the ladder after four consecutive defeats and star half Jackson Hastings believes it is time for the team to “take control” of their performance.
Michael Maguire took the brunt of the Tigers’ disappointing first half of the season when he was sacked while Brett Kimmorley was acting in the interim.
But Hastings believes that the coach should not get into trouble if the Tigers lose.
“Everyone knew what the crowd would be like… Noddy had prepared us, we had a great week of training and it didn’t translate on the pitch,” he said after Sunday’s loss.
“As players we have to take ownership. The coach doesn’t go out and play the game for you – the 17 guys have to go do that.
“We had a lot to play for, we had two kids who worked and really needed to make their NRL debut and we had our own reasons for championing the game.
“Everyone knew what we were up against, we understood the assignment, but they played just a little better than us.
“We really need to be more behind and take ownership as a playgroup and not wait for the coach to say something – just go out and do it.”
warriors: 14. Chanel Harris-Tavita 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Jesse Arthars 18. Adam Pompey 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Ronald Volkman 7. Shaun Johnson 20. Aaron Pene 9. Wayde Egan 10. Jazz Tevaga 4. Euan Aitken 13. Josh Curran 12. Tohu Harris 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 15. Bunty Afoa 17. Bayley Sironen 22. Freddy Lussick. Substitute player: 16. Elisa Katoa
Tigers: 1. Daine Laurie 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Starford To’a 4. James Roberts 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Luke Brooks 7. Jackson Hastings 16. Alex Seyfarth 9. Fa’amanu Brown 10. Zane Musgrove 11. Luke Garner 12. Kelma Tuilagi 13. Joe Ofahengaue 14. Stefano Utoikamanu 15. Adam Doueihi 17. Fonua Pole 20. Austin Dias. Substitute player: 21. Jacob Liddle
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