Sheer grit and determination in defence has handed the New Zealand Warriors a 20-12 win to open their account in season 2023 in front of a Wellington home crowd.
The game started in the worst way possible for the home side, with an error from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the first minute allowing Newcastle the first attacking set of the game. Lachlan Fitzgibbon crossed for the first points for the Knights just a few tackles later, and the Hastings conversion took the score to 6-0.
The momentum swung back and forth over the next 20 or so minutes, with both teams receiving significant amounts of penalties and six agains. However both teams' defence were up to the challenge, so it wasn't until the 27th minute that the scorekeeper was needed again. A strong run for Mitchell Barnett against his old club put the Newcastle defence in scrambles, and some good hands on the right edge gave the Warriors their first points of 2023 through Edward Kosi.
Lachlan Miller's restart then went out on the full, gifting the Warriors another attacking set off the back of their try. It was only a few minutes before Bunty Afoa made Newcastle pay, going straight through some tired forwards to give New Zealand the lead for the first time. Johnson's successful conversion took the scoreline to 10-6, which it would remain into the half-time break.
Newcastle sprinted out of the blocks to start the second half, and they converted on some poor Warriors discipline to cross over on their left edge through Hymel Hunt. Jackson Hastings showed that he has brought his kicking boots over from the Tigers, giving his side a two point lead after nailing the sideline conversion in very windy conditions.
The Knights kept the pressure on, but it would be the Warriors who would cross the stripe next. Very much against the run of play, Brayden Wiliame made a great run and found his fullback backing up on the inside. The Nicoll-Klokstad try was failed to be converted by Shaun Johnson, leaving the Warriors with a two point lead at 14-12 in the 54th minute.
Suddenly, the tide turned. The Warriors went very close to scoring twice more in the next few minutes, but the Knights were consistently giving away penalties and six against whilst defending their own line. Ultimately, Phoenix Crossland was sent to the sin bin, but despite this the Warriors couldn't turn their ten minutes of line attack into any points.
Kalyn Ponga looked to have scored for Newcastle in the 68th minute, but Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad managed to hold him up with a great try-saving tackle. Just a few minutes later, the independent doctor ruled that Ponga had to leave the field for a HIA, much to his frustration. Newcastle would have a few more repeat sets on the line, but some frantic defence from the Warriors somehow kept them out.
Wayde Egan closed the game out in the 75th minute with a great display of eyes up footy, scooting straight out of dummy half and over the line. With the scoreline at 20-12, the Knights needed some magic to steal the points, but instead they dished up a few more handling errors to close out the match.
The Warriors will travel to Sydney to meet the Roosters next Saturday, while the Knights are off to Leichhardt Oval for a Sunday afternoon clash with the Tigers.
Match Highlights - #NRLWarriorsKnights
The Warriors got off to a winning start on Friday night, as they emerged 20-12 winners over the Knights in a tense affair in Wellington. pic.twitter.com/RmFxWqATwL
— NRL (@NRL) March 3, 2023