NZ Warriors have written another installment in their resurgent NRL season under new coach Andrew Webster, outlasting North Queensland Cowboys 22-14 at Mt Smart Stadium.
The home side overcame lopsided possession statistics to lead most of the way – including the opening try after just three minutes – but were locked 14-14 midway through the second half, before finishing strongly.
The result sees the Warriors maintain their spot near the top of the NRL ladder – currently trailing just Brisbane Broncos on points differential – with their fifth win of the season.
After conceding tries inside the opening five minutes across their previous six games, the Auckland side finally broke that trend, when prop Addin Fonua-Blake spun out of a couple of tackles to score next to the posts after three minutes.
North Queensland struck back through winger Murray Taulagi, but Warriors winger Ed Kosi continued his tryscroing form off a spectacular run from centre Marcelo Montoya to extend the home advantage.
Cowboys prop Ruben Cotter kept the contest close, but wayward goal-kicking from Valentine Holmes saw the Warriors still leading 10-8 at halftime.
Through the opening 40 minutes, they had gifted their rivals numerous attacking opportunities through mistakes in their own half, but owed their lead to tough defence that held those raids at bay.
Over the entire match, North Queensland enjoyed a 57 percent possession advantage and forced the Warriors into 80 more tackles, but those stats were even more pronounced in the first half.
The key numbers for the Warriors were their 17 missed tackles, compared to the Cowboys’ 40 – a measure of their effectiveness without the ball.
After the break, second-rower Josh Curran ran an angle off Shaun Johnson near the tryline to score, but Johnson’s own kicking troubles were preventing his side tacking full toll of their opportunities.
When Holmes scored an opportunistic try and converted, the Cowboys were level and the result was still very much in the balance.
Good fortune smiled on the Warriors, when Johnson’s attempted stab kick near the line was blocked straight back into his hands and veteran half Dylan Walker dummied his way over the winning try. Johnson slotted the conversion, but in the dying moments, he missed a handy penalty that would have put the game beyond a converted try.
Fortunately, his kick went dead and North Queensland fullback Scott Drinkwater put his dropout into touch on the full, present another penalty chance from in front of the posts. This time, Johnson made no mistake to clinch the victory.
The Warriors welcomed back winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and captain Tohu Harris from injury, and will likely greet more reinforcements back from the sidelines for their next outing against Melbourne Storm on ANZAC Day.
NZ Warriors 22 (Fonua-Blake, Curran, Walker & Kosi tries; Johnson 2 conversions & penalty) North Queensland Cowboys 14 (Taulagi, Holmes & Cotter tries; Holmes conversion)