Saturday 20 January 2018 / 12:22 PM


WARRIORS 14 d. ROOSTERS 13 @ Mt Smart Stadium

Mitchell Pearce went from hero to villain in record time in an extraordinary finish to a wet and wild Auckland afternoon, with the Warriors doing everything possible to shoot themselves in the foot before snatching a crucial win via Shaun Johnson’s clutch penalty with a minute to go.

THE MATCH: The Warriors started with purpose and opened the scoring after just five minutes as in-form front-rower James Gavet crashed over from close-range. Further points proved elusive, however, and North Island product Joseph Manu struck back for the Roosters with a slick solo effort in the 28th minute.

The sin-binning of Roosters winger Daniel Tupou for a professional foul proved crucial, with the Warriors crossing through David Fusitu’a to grab a 12-4 halftime advantage.

But after the hosts squandered a pair of gilt-edged opportunities early in the second half, Shaun Kenny-Dowall snaffled an intercept from Shaun Johnson and raced 50 metres for a momentum-turning try.

The Warriors looked certain to implode and were camped on their try-line for the next 10 minutes through a combination of errors, penalties and defensive misreads, but their ability to stop the Roosters from scoring again was nothing short of remarkable.

Michael Gordon’s penalty goal levelled the scores with 23 minutes to go, and Mitchell Pearce – the Anzac Day field goal hero against the Dragons – broke a lengthy and nail-biting impasse. Charged down twice by Ryan Hoffman, it was third time lucky for Pearce as he snapped a sweet one-pointer with five minutes left.

But with the Warriors hot on attack, Pearce was sensationally penalised for being offside (the halfback was lying in the ruck and didn’t get back the 10 metres during a helter-skelter Warriors play), allowing Johnson to step up and coolly slot the tricky match-winner from out wide.

THE MAN: Following an ordinary start to the season that had many calling for Danny Levi to supplant him as New Zealand’s hooker for the Anzac Test, Issac Luke has steadily regained form over the last five weeks and had arguably his best game in Warriors colours up against Kangaroos rep Jake Friend. Luke ran dangerously and often from dummy-half, kicked well, took on some of the playmaking load and reeled off 44 tackles – including some stinging effort. A great sign for the Kiwis.

THE MOMENT: Johnson’s remarkable one-on-one strip on Tupou ultimately saw the gangly winger sin-binned for holding down the Warriors halfback too long. Utilising the one-man advantage, Johnson sent Fusitu’a over within a couple of minutes to give the home side a vital buffer. It wasn’t Johnson’s best game – in fact, in some ways it was his poorest of the season – but he came up with some big plays in general play and off the tee. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s try-saver on Jake Friend in the second half also deserves mention.

STORM 34 d. DRAGONS 22 @ WIN Stadium

Melbourne’s back-three had a raging party in Wollongong to effectively seal the result inside 53 minutes, but St George Illawarra fought back admirably to score the last four tries of an unexpected points-fest between the two defensive powerhouses.

THE MATCH: The Storm were racing the clock for much of the first half, charging out to a 22-0 lead as Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr bagged early doubles on the back of super-slick backline play and brilliant finishing.

Jason Nightingale belatedly put the Dragons on the board in the 36th minute, but Billy Slater scored a quick-fire double – the second from a dazzling Vunivalu assist – to open the second half and set up a commanding 34-4 lead.

But the Dragons refused to drop their bundle, and after Nightingale scored his second, the sin-binning of Cooper Cronk saw the home side cross twice more. Cameron McInnes stretched out and Nightingale – who was contentiously overlooked for the Kiwis Test team just after the match – completed a hat-trick.

The brief flicker of a miracle comeback was eventually extinguished, but Tariq Sims charged away for the final say in the 79th minute to reduce the final margin to just 12 points – no doubt leaving many punters rejoicing or tearing up their tickets at the death.

THE MAN: Josh Addo-Carr is just electric, with his searing pace and magnificent scoring instincts netting him two first-half tries. He finished with 226 metres and three line-breaks in a typically busy display. He seems like the type of winger that would be flighty and error-prone – but in this Melbourne system, that’s just not the case. If pundits are throwing Akuila Uate’s name in the ring for an Origin recall, then JAC has to be a decent chance of a Blues debut.

THE MOMENT: Cameron Smith earned another indelible piece of history in an incomparable career by overtaking Jason Taylor for the most goals in premiership history. The Storm captain’s conversion of Slater’s second try was his 943rd goal, and he is almost certain to become the first player to break the magical 1,000-goal barrier by the end of the 2017 season.

[YouTube – NRL 2017]

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Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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