A vintage performance from Shaun Johnson has sparked the New Zealand Warriors to a dominant second-half performance to run away with a 42-18 victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs in the 300th premiership match to be played in Auckland.
It was the home side that got off to a hot start scoring twice inside the first fifteen minutes. Off an illegal tackle off the ball from Braidon Burns, the Warriors were able to build momentum and crashed over after Shaun Johnson tore the left-hand defensive of the Bulldogs apart. It was his well-timed pass that sent Villiami Vailea away to cross for the first try. Canterbury worked their way back into the game and set up an attacking opportunity, but Matt Burton's pass was picked off by Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and the flying winger sprinted the length of the field to give the Warriors a 12-0 lead.
Canterbury quickly rebounded and earnt a repeat set of six. Despite going close through Matt Burton, the Bulldogs scored off the proceeding play when Aaron Schoupp found Jake Averillo to cut the Warriors lead in half. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs failed to complete their set after points and from there the Warriors made them pay. Off the scrum play, the Warriors shifted it left and Johnson found Reece Walsh and found to the man of the moment Edward Kosi who slammed the footy down and the Warriors restored their 12-point lead.
The rest of the first half was an error-fest with both sides failing to take full advantage of their quality possession. After such a frantic opening 20 minutes where we saw four tries, the final twenty saw no tries and a lot of drop ball. But the Warriors went to the shed up by 12 points. The start of the second forty was just as reminiscent of the first half. A traditional spiral bomb from Burton sent Walsh into a nightmare. It sat up nicely for Jacob Kiraz who found Burns before being taken meters before the line. Off the ensuing tackle, Walsh lost it in the contact of Burns and Kyle Flanagan was jolly on the spot to secure the footy and reduce the margin back to six points.
The Warriors thought they hit back when Euan Aitken crashed over for his 50th try in the top grade, but the video referee spoiled the party when he found a little knock-on although the Warriors maintained possession. The home side might've been better off losing the ball as Johnson's cut-out ball was intercepted by Josh Addo-Carr and no one is catching the Fox from the open field and the scores were level at 18 apiece. The Warriors were always looking dangerous in the attacking third, with Addin Fonua-Blake being denied by the tenacious defence. Off the ensuing play, Johnson provided a lovely pass to Eli Katoa and the man who's farewelling the club at the end of the season crashed over to re-take the lead for the home side as we entered the final quarter of the game.
The final twenty minutes saw an end-to-end battle with the Warriors dominating the early attacking opportunities but failing to come up with the knock-out blow to close the game out. At the same time, the Bulldogs were unable to ask enough questions in their attack with Burton's normally reliable kicking game struggling to create results similar to what we saw earlier in the second half. New Zealand sealed the game inside the final five minutes when Johnson breezed past Flanagan and dummied his way past Averillo to give the Warriors an unassailable 12-point margin. The home side wasn't finished, off a kickoff penalty, the Warriors sent it left and Walsh found Kosi for his try double. Off the next set, Asi's bomb was allowed to bounce and Addin Fonua-Blake pounced for his first try of the season sealing a 42-18 victory.