Rugby league: New Zealand Warriors bounce back to beat St George Illawarra Dragons in NRL

Warriors 20
Dragons 14

What a difference a week makes.

After easily their worst performance of the season against Manly, the Warriors came up with probably their best display of 2021 on Sunday, to beat the Dragons 20-14.

Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was exceptional in his 100th game and his solo try late in the second half proved the difference.

But there were many heroes, as the team also had to overcome the loss of senior centre Peta Hiku in the fifth minute with a dislocated shoulder and wing Ken Maumalo carried a leg injury through most of the match.

The half-hearted effort and indecision of last week was long gone, as the Warriors were committed, courageous and clever.

They looked a completely different team – which is why the Warriors can be so mystifying – but it was a remarkable display in difficult circumstances, in front of a hostile crowd and against a team in good form.

It was a true 80-minute effort. Their defence was solid, their kick-chase pressure relentless and they scrambled well when necessary.

The Warriors also competed well in the grind, and enjoyed a staggering completion rate, with only one error in possession.

The spine was more cohesive, while Kodi Nikorima had a busy game after a quiet previous fortnight.

The forwards stood up well to their much vaunted opposites, with Tohu Harris, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Jazz Tevaga particularly effective.

The Warriors were fighting history on Sunday. They had only one previous win at Kogarah, and the Dragons have historically been Kryptonite for the Auckland team, with just nine wins from 31 encounters (29 per cent win ratio) since 1995.

Nathan Brown shuffled the deck pre-match, bringing Kane Evans, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Murdoch-Masila into the starting side, with Tevaga and Leeson Ah Mau shifting to the bench and Jack Murchie to 18th man.

The Dragons opened the scoring in the seventh minute, with a simple but effective backline move executed at pace to send Cody Ramsay over in the corner, but the Warriors’ response was immediate, with Harris showing his strength and experience to spin over from close range off Wayde Egan.

That boosted the Warriors, who returned to opposition territory via a penalty, then had a touch of fortune as Dufty missed a Nikorima grubber, with Paul Turner rewarded for a strong chase, to lead 12-4 after 15 minutes.

They had the better of the rest of the half, but their hard work was undone by a cheap penalty given up by wing Marcelo Montoya. From the ensuing set powerful wing Mikaele Ravalawa forced his way over inches from the sideline, despite the attentions of two defenders.

The Warriors failed to make the most of more opportunities late in the half, and it was hard to escape the feeling that the visitors had left points out there.

Both teams went close early in the second half, with Egan grounding on the dead ball line after a searing Tuivasa-Sheck break, then a Jack Bird effort rubbed out for a knock-on.

They chanced their arm several times – with some profit – on fifth tackle plays – but probably overdid it on other occasions, when a kick to the corner was the better option.

Another cheap penalty, for offside, provided the momentum for the Dragons to break the deadlock in the 59th minute, with Dufty spearing onto an Adam Clune kick near the posts.

Some individual magic from Tuivasa-Sheck – who beat three defenders off a flat Nikorima pass – took the Warriors back into the ascendancy with 15 minutes to play, before a Nikorima penalty extended their lead, which they never rescinded, despite some late Dragons pressure.

Warriors 20 (Tohu Harris, Paul Turner, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Kodi Nikorima 3 cons, pen)
Dragons 14 (Cody Ramsay, Mikaele Ravalawa, Matt Dufty tries; Zac Lomax con)
HT: 12-8

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