The New Zealand Warriors have continued their perfect start to their 2017 campaign after holding off Illawarra 21-14 at Win Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Illawarra took an early 12-0 advantage in the first half, after in-form halfback Shaun Nona played his hand in both tries, but consistent handling errors allowed the ladder-leaders to orchestrate a come-from-behind victory thanks to the direction and experience of Mason Lino. The dynamic no.7 played a key role in grinding out the late stages of the contest, and was supported well by Nathaniel Roache who provided significant impact off the bench.
The Warriors had an early opportunity to draw first blood with consecutive sets on the opposition goal line, but despite their chances Illawarra held strong with their defence and were able to force an error.
Some quick thinking from Shaun Nona shortly after saw the crafty halfback find some open space, with a clever kick resulting in a Warriors knock on. Moments later, Illawarra took advantage with a strong carry from Taane Milne attracting a host of defenders before offloading to Siliva Havili for the opening try.
It didn’t take long for Illawarra to extend their lead with Nona placing a pin-point kick for winger Patrick Herbert, who leaped high above his opposite number to score in the corner. Nona’s touchline conversion was successful with Illawarra holding a handy 12-0 lead after 20 minutes.
The Warriors were starved of possession in the opening quarter of the game, but they finally found a spark with Nathaniel Roache having an immediate impact off the bench as he crashed over for his teams first try of the afternoon.
The Warriors had another opportunity to score back-to-back tries as a penalty gifted them valuable field position, but the wet conditions proved costly as an unforced error cut their chance of closing the lead.
Ill-discipline from the home side allowed the Warriors to continuously threaten their line, and eventually found a breakthrough with a classy backline movement leading to a brilliant finish from Fetalaiga Paiga who crossed in the right hand corner.
Mason Lino was unable to covert from the sideline, with Illawarra holding onto a 12-8 lead with five minutes remaining in the first half.
The finals five minutes saw both sides trying to earn themselves the perfect finish with strong carries through the middle-third, but continuous handling errors ensured the score would remain at 12-8 at half time.
The Warriors were immediately under pressure straight after halftime, as mistakes allowed Illawarra an early chance to extend their . The Warriors offered some committed goal-line defence throughout the threatening rads, but a high tackle in front of the posts gifted Illawarra two points with Nona extending the lead.
Another mistake coming off the Warriors goal-line was a further opportunity for Illawarra to take a further stranglehold in the game, but they were unable to take full advantage as the gutsy Warriors defence held strong.
Moments later, Illawarra’s refusal to take another penalty goal came back to haunt them as the Warriors marched up the field and eventually found Samuel Cook, with the winger showing great athleticism to score in the left hand corner. Lino nailed the sideline conversion to bring the game to 14-all with 25 minutes remaining.
Illawarra were fighting hard to re-claim the lead after they remained tryless since the 20th minute of the game, and just when they seemed to find a breakthrough, Warriors winger Fetalaiga Pauga snatched an intercept and raced away before being caught by Matt Dufty.
The Warriors didn’t let their chances slip with Jazz Tevaga barging his way over in the ensuing play, claiming the lead for the first time of the afternoon. Lino converted right next to the posts to set the score at 20-14 with 15 minutes remaining.
Handling errors mounted a heap of pressure on both sides as they searched for a much needed try, and Illawarra continued to threaten the ladder-leaders with a short burst down the right hand side resulting in a goal line drop-out.
Illawarra were unable to capitalise with an obstruction penalty relieving the Warriors of conceding a potential try, and they used the resulting set to set for a field goal with Lino again taking full advantage.
The closing stages were mounted with more handling errors as the wet conditions played their part, and the Warriors eventually ran out to claim their fourth straight victory 21-14.