The New Zealand Warriors have effectively closed out the game against the Penrith Panthers to stay alive in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Finals race, defeating their opposition 21 points to 14.
The home side were always going to be helped by Ata Hingano's late inclusion, with Erin Clark shifting to hooker and Jazz Tevaga out of the side. For the Panthers, Moses Leota lined up at prop in the only significant change to their side.
It didn't take long for the Warriors' halves to make an impact, either, with Mason Lino orchestrating an overlap down the right-hand side. Zach Mackay still had plenty of work to do, however, and put in a clever grubber for Henare Wells to chase down. The try was unconverted by Lino.
Zach Dockar-Clay came up with an intercept and the visitors looked like hitting back soon after, but Raymond Lesoa was ruled to be held up by some desperate Warriors defence. In the ensuing set the locals made them pay, thanks to another piece of brilliance from Lino and Wells. The stocky halfback sent the ball high this time and Wells came up with a fantastic take to score his second. With Lino missing the conversion once again, the Warriors led 8-0.
Neither side were letting up for the next 10 minutes, but Zac Mackay was ruled to have knocked on in-goal in trying to score his side's first. The Panthers were similarly let off the hook moments later, but a Malakai Watene-Zelezniak fumble soon had them back on the defence. The right-hand side defence was tested this time and couldn't hold the Warriors out, with James Gavet producing a phenomenal run to score. The experienced prop carried Dockar-Clay into the in-goal to get his side's third, with Lino adding the extras for a 14-0 lead.
The Panthers were still looking dangerous when they had the ball, but errors were bringing them undone; errors to Dockar-Clay, Te Maire Martin and Leota let the Warriors off when in dangerous position for a completion rate of just 57%.
Half-time was approaching and the Panthers were once again on the attack - and this time they made the most of their chance. A torpedo from Martin produced a horror bounce for Wells, with Chris Aunese-Scanlan cleaing up the scraps to get his side on the board. Dockar-Clay converted and it was 14-6 as both sides went into the sheds.
After an error-riddled opening half, the second began in a similar fashion. A penalty soon put the Panthers back on the attack, however, and they managed to reduce the deficit. Some strong carries from Leota were followed up by a brilliant offload to send Antonio Pelesa crashing over in front of the sticks, converted for a 14-12 scoreline.
As the rain began to come down in Auckland, funnily enough, the errors appeared to dry up. Some bruising defence from the Panthers kept the Warriors in their own half and they began to take the ascendancy. When a penalty soon came in front of the posts, Dockar-Clay opted to take the two to even things up. He made no mistake and scores were locked at 14-14 heading into the final quarter.
Having averaged just 5.5 points in the second half of their last eight games, the Warriors were desperate to post more and regain the lead. With 13 minutes remaining, the home side was back on the attack and when the ball shifted right through Lino, he once again put his outside man in space. Matt Allwood got the ball and with some impressive footwork, beat three defenders to score. The try was converted and the Warriors held a six-point advantage.
Martin showed his blistering change of pace soon after to go close to setting up Mackay, but the Warriors defence held strong and they effectively built pressure down the other end of the field. The home side chose not to go for a decisive field goal on a number of occasions, but with just one minute remaining decided to add the extra point through Lino. The game finished at 21 points to 14, with the Warriors keeping their premiership hopes alive.