A two-try effort by Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson, who dominated the match, led the Warriors to a 36-14 victory over an injury-ravaged Aquis Gold Coast Titans outfit in front of a crowd of 14,132 at Cbus Super Stadium tonight.
The late withdrawal of Titans skipper Nate Myles due a foot injury sustained in Origin II was compounded by the loss of Ryan James (shoulder) in the first-half and Aidan Sezer (hamstring) in the second. James bravely went back onto the field with his left arm limp but lasted less than five minutes.
The Titans led 10-6 lead at half-time break but with the mounting injury toll and the Warriors dominating possession with six goal-line drop-outs, the Titans were unable to contain a barnstorming Warriors outfit whose second-phase play was creating a mountain of space for the brilliant Johnson who set-up three tries, scored two and kicked six conversions.
The Warriors led 24-14 with nine minutes remaining and the game still on the line but ran in two converted tries in the last three minutes.
Coach Neil Henry said he was proud of his team’s brave effort given the rising injury count and the amount of possession the Warriors had.
“There was a lot of effort from our boys, the ground us down in the end and gave us a lesson with their short kicking game when they attacked our line we had six goal-line drop-outs for the game compared to the one we were able to get off them,” Henry said.
“They ground us down at the end and a bit of footwork by Johnson and as we talked about after the game, some of those tries were preventable, we showed a bit of space for Friend to go through on the goal-line which was disappointing given we had defended really well there up until that.
“Coming into half-time we were in a contest but we had virtually no field-position and they ended up with 21-10 attacking sets for the game and 60-40 possession so we really had to work.
“We were hanging in there and I thought we showed a bit of resilience to not let it get too out of hand but a couple of late tries blew out the score.
“It’s been a tough afternoon for us against a side that was very good; they came here and played some good footy with not many errors in their game.
“We lacked any flow with our attack today because we really didn’t get the ball in an attacking position enough in that game and it was a good game of football by the Warriors who didn’t give us many opportunities.
“The important thing now is we rest up, ice up and get a recovery before we get on the road to Gosford for a tough game next week.”
Henry said he was also impressed by the contributions of the side’s two newest recruits Nene Macdonald and Chad Redman, who joined the club mid-week.
“The bright spark from the game was Nene Macdonald who had some nice touches with the ball and Chad Redman running from dummy-half had to play more minutes than we thought he’d play but I thought he equipped himself quite well. They have done a good job and they will certainly be needed in the next few weeks.”
Stand-in skipper Luke Douglas said it was a tough out on the field after losing players to injury and that the Warriors took advantage and controlled the game excellently.
“It felt like we had no ball when we were coming out of our own end, they gave us a lesson on getting repeat sets and they were really revved up as we were trying to get up,” Douglas said.
“It was a real uphill battle and they were catching our kicks on their 40 or 50 and going straight into attacking sets which makes it pretty tough and the odd offload and a few guys playing out of positions and out of troops did a bit of damage.
“We have trust in the troops we’ve got and it was a good week for the club with a new major sponsor. Coming in at half-time I felt confident but we just couldn’t get any ball in the second-half and being down on troops it hurt us.”
After defending an early attacking onslaught by the Warriors, the Titans managed to post first points in the 12th minute when Matthew Robinson got an offload away to new recruit Nene Macdonald who flirted with the touchline before throwing a pass inside to a supporting Josh Hoffman to score his fourth try for the Titans and give the side an early 4-0 lead.
With the momentum in their favour, the Titans capitalised to register points through Lachlan Burr who received a deft short-ball close to the line to score his first try NRL try and give Aidan Sezer an easy conversion to give the Titans a 10-0 lead after 18 minutes.
A repeat set from a penalty close to the line gifted the Warriors prime attacking position and they took full advantage with Nathan Friend slicing his way through the Titans defence to score next to the posts before Shaun Johnson converted to reduce the Titans lead to 10-6 after 22 minutes.
The match turned into an arm-wrestle with both sides going set-for-set until the Warriors forced their fourth goal line dropout of the half and looked to have scored when Charlie Gubb got across the line but were denied by the video referee who ruled he was short of the line.
The Titans had one last opportunity to extend their lead after receiving a scrum-feed 25 metres out from the Warriors line in the final seconds of the half but they were unable to take advantage and were forced to settle for a 10-6 half-time lead.
After a frantic start to the half, the Titans were forced to pay for their ill-discipline with back-to-back penalties gifting the Warriors attacking position and they capitalised with Raymond Faitala-Mariner barging his way across the line before Johnson converted to give the Warriors a 12-10 lead after 53 minutes of play.
The Warriors went back-to-back on the back of their second-phase play giving Johnson a crack at the Titans staggered defensive line with the Golden Boot winner showing lightning pace and his trademark step to score untouched under the posts giving himself an easy kick and the Warriors an 18-10 lead.
The Warriors got across the line again in the 60th minute but were denied by the video referee who rightly ruled Solomone Kata knock the ball on in the process of reeling in a Chad Townsend grubber.
There was no denying the Warriors in the following set with Johnson putting in a deft grubber for a flying Konrad Hurrell to plant down in the in-goal. Johnson added the extras to extend the Warriors lead out to 24-10 with 15 minutes remaining.
It was a double-blow for the Titans with Sezer (hamstring) and James (shoulder) both coming from the field with injuries after being without 12 players from the full-time NRL squad going into the match.
But despite the lack of two of their most seasoned players, the Titans continued to compete and hit back by turning defence into attack after forcing a Warriors error before getting the ball away to James Roberts who utilised his speed to get outside the defence and score in the corner. With Sezer off the field, Mortimer took over goal-kicking duties but was unable to add the extras from the sideline leaving the Titans trailing 24-14 with less than ten minutes remaining.
The Warriors finished the game win style with two quick tries through Bodene Thompson who cleaned up another Johnson grubber to score out wide before the skilful halfback sliced through from the following set to grab his second try of the night and give the Warriors the 36-14 victory.
The Titans will look to hit-back next week when they take on the Sydney Roosters at the Central Coast on Sunday.
New Zealand Warriors 36 (S Johnson 2, N Friend, R Faitala-Mariner, K Hurrell, B Thompson tries; S Johnson 6 goals) defeated Gold Coast Titans 14(J Hoffman, L Burr, J Roberts tries; A Sezer goal)