Tohu Harris of the Warriors is tackled by Jaydn Su’a of the Dragons. Photo / AAP / Photosport
The Warriors look headed for new heights in 2023, but are downplaying talk of being top four contenders in September.
Their 48-18 thrashing of St George-Illawarra on Friday night was their fourth win in five
games, a spell of form that has seen them accelerate up the NRL ladder. They now have a 9-6 record – something only achieved in four previous seasons dating back to 1995 – and look well placed to stay at that altitude, with six of their remaining nine games in New Zealand, including five at Mt Smart.
But coach Andrew Webster has refused to set targets throughout this season and captain Tohu Harris backed that stance, when asked if the Warriors were on course for the coveted top quartet and a home playoff match.
“We are not looking at the results,” said Harris. “We are looking at improving each and every week. [Friday] was a game that we still had a lot to improve on – being clinical at the right times and being a bit more ruthless. That’s all our focus has been every single week; improving on the last week. If that results in a top four spot then that’s outstanding but we can’t skip the steps on the way there.”
Webster echoed those sentiments, pointing out that the Warriors are far from a finished product.
“Our big thing at the moment is how quickly can we improve each week and how can we fix things that we are not good at and how ambitious are we – not about the result – but ambitious to be better,” said Webster. “That’s what we have to focus on.”
But there is no doubt the Warriors are turning heads, with this dismissal of the Dragons the latest positive performance. The joint venture club aren’t in great shape – exacerbated by the ongoing questions over captain Ben Hunt – but they had managed some impressive recent results against heavyweight teams and had a decent home record (4-2) this year.
But the Warriors were a class above – making light of their bogey Wollongong venue – and the contest was over with 30 minutes to play. However, it was also a patchy performance at times, with the impression that the Warriors had more to give.
“Our attack was really clinical at times but also thought we overdid at other times,” said Webster. “There were moments where we were trying to be a little bit too cute.”
But given their dominance, Webster was particularly pleased with the attitude in the closing minutes, determined to prevent a consolation Dragons try.
“We scored 48 points but I thought the boys kept trying defensively, said Webster. “Because they are the moments that you are not ruthless and don’t want to keep trying because you know you have got it done.”
It was a milestone win. As noted by league historian Will Evans, it was the Warriors’ highest score since 2016 and the third successive match they have notched 30 or more points – a streak last achieved in 2007.
The right edge attack was particularly potent, with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak zipping across for four tries, as well as setting one up for Rocco Berry. The offensive variety was the most pleasing aspect for the Warriors, as they demonstrated an ability to hurt teams in numerous ways.
Prop Addin Fonua-Blake (20 runs for 190 metres) was a towering presence in an impressive pack, with Harris, Marata Niukore and Dylan Walker not far behind.
The spine thrived on that platform, particularly the combination between Shaun Johnson and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. Johnson’s presence tormented the defensive line – as he made defenders hesitate – and the fullback contributed four try assists with vision and decisive passing, as well as 24 runs for 188 metres.
“Charnze has changed the way he attacks,” said Webster. “He is so clear on how it looks for him at the moment.”
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The result will ensure another sellout for Friday’s match against the Rabbitohs, with only around 1500 tickets remaining.
“We have to make sure Mt Smart is rocking,” said Webster. “Get everyone there yelling and screaming and carrying on, because that is what they love doing.”
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