GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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Brisbane will be harder next weekend. That is the sobering thought for the Warriors as they recover from the high of beating the competition's best.
The 22-14 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs was a solidly constructed, well-executed performance which underlined the improvement in the side this season and the fact that they are real title contenders.
A win over the Broncos at Ericsson Stadium this Sunday would secure a psychological advantage for the finals. They would go in with wins over the only teams above them, sending messages to those below.
It was a relentless, 80-minute workout that won it on Saturday night - that, and the generalship of captain, halfback and kicker Stacey Jones.
Now the hard games are here, he is stepping up to show just how much class he has. The Dogs had no answer to his organisation and ability.
Jerry Seuseu was the best ground-gainer of the front rowers.
Stifling defence killed the Dogs' efforts. The visitors' energy and enthusiasm never faded, but the no-mistakes muscle from the home team eventually wore them down.
Dogs coach Steve Folkes had no complaints. His team were beaten by the better side on the day, he said.
They had not gone in thinking of the two more victories which would have equalled the record of 19 consecutive premiership wins.
Losses by the two competition frontrunners (the Broncos were beaten by the Roosters) was not a sign that fatigue was setting in as a long season ground down, Folkes said.
"We tried really hard. Our execution wasn't good and they obviously played really well."
The team had been positive in the dressing room afterwards. They were not concerned about any mental impact, nor that any psychological gain had been taken by the Warriors.
But the nonchalance Folkes attempted to project as he whistled his way off down the corridor to conduct the post-mortem with his players suggested anything but.
There were multiple heroes for the home team. Kevin Campion, Awen Guttenbeil and Logan Swann held the ruck area tight all night.
Brent Webb cleared up all the grubbers and chips which the Bulldogs fed into the Warriors' red zone and continues to look the fullback goods for 2003.
Lance Hohaia and Wairangi Koopu showed no signs of the injuries which kept them out of recent games.
The team did the job with first-choice players Richard Villasanti, Motu Tony and Clinton Toopi sidelined.
The entrance of David Myles showed how well the non-starters are prepared, and the depth of the back-up.
Myles had not played in the NRL since round six but had a great start, scoring soon after he came off the bench in the second half and having a second touchdown disallowed because the video referee ruled that he had lost control of the ball as he slid towards the line in a tackle in what was a very 50-50 decision.
The Dogs claimed the first points, with former Warrior Nigel Vagana first to a kick from Brent Sherwin after just three minutes. But they could not get more until it was too late.
The Warriors produced a brilliant kick-chase to keep the visitors at the right end of the field, made very few errors and went 50 minutes through the guts of the game without conceding a penalty which might have interrupted their momentum.
The Dogs just could not get into it at all. As the pressure told they came up with uncharacteristic errors - knock-ons, passes to no one, defensive lapses.
The Warriors took their opportunities and created chances which could have seen them score more than the four tries they did secure. They never looked like losing.
Vagana is on report for a high shot on Webb, but it was instinctive, and on a falling player rather than deliberately dangerous, and any penalty seems unlikely. Webb's head knock was the only injury.
For the 21,750 fans, the biggest crowd of the season, it was what the Warriors had promised since their inception in 1995.
"Hallelujahs" erupted from the PA system, Gospel singers voicing everyone's thoughts.
For a change, no one went home early. Many did not want to go home at all, with some spectators breaking into an impromptu game as the cheering continued long after the team had departed the field.
You can tell when the Warriors are winning. The carpark is full of expensive four-wheel-drives and European cars that do not come from the league heartland in South and West Auckland.
And Murray Deaker turns up. The broadcaster wrote a column in this paper not so many months ago suggesting the Warriors be wound up because they were a sporting embarrassment to this country.
On Saturday night he braved the Mad Butcher's after-match speech. Peter Leitch pointedly thanked him for all his support for the game "these last few weeks."
The job for the Warriors now is to keep the Deakers at Ericsson and only one thing will do that - winning again.