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The New Zealand Warriors made a happy return to Auckland with a hard-fought 22-2 win over the Wests Tigers.
With 1,038 days between home games, the pressure was always on the Warriors as Mt Smart Stadium sold out a week in advance.
Luckily for the home fans, the locals responded with powerful carries and a solid defense to limit the Tigers to a single penalty goal.
The audience was electrified, maybe too much: there were several pitch invaders, shoeys in the stands and emotional scenes at the end.
On the pitch, it was a crunchy, defense-focused game that was, to put it politely, one for rugby league’s purists. If you like hard runs and hits, then this is the game for you, albeit at the expense of flair.
For New Zealand, the plan was simple: hit the middle, kick the corners, and then tackle anything that moves. With Chanel Harris-Tavita deputizing at full-back for Reece Walsh, who has so often been their most creative player but has been sidelined with Covid, they were always unlikely to play with much adventure.
They relied on the accumulation of pressure and Shaun Johnson’s kicks to create opportunities. His connection with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was worth two of their three tries.
The Tigers had the same idea and completed up to 86% but struggled to get anything going in attack. The Warriors defended superbly, but didn’t get enough questions.
Kiwi Rugby League fans had missed the sport and it was as if both teams decided to give them maximum entertainment from the start.
Aaron Pene took the first carry with poison and was knocked back, with his teammates joining to almost create a maul. Wayde Egan broke through two games later and would have put Harris-Tavita under the post had the late call-up not slipped. Jazz Tevaga took another hard carry and ended up with a HIA and that was all in the 60 seconds.
Once a pattern emerged, all warriors did. They’re a team struggling to score points and it showed the Tigers were capable of tackling the opening ten minutes, which saw six Warriors sets bet on Wests’.
The weight of the pressure seemed to have said it as Egan dug in from the dummy half. The attempt was made and the crowd went wild, but bunker officer Kasey Badger pooped the party and shouted — correctly — that the ball hadn’t been grounded.
She intervened again to take Harris-Tavita the opener for a Marcelo Montoya break-off but had no complaints as Warriors captain Tohu Harris finally emotionally found a gap in a battered Tigers defense to concede her first try back after 29 minutes achieve .
It wasn’t the first goal – Johnson had previously admitted he suffered defeat in attack with a penalty – but as far as the right people to pick up rugby league points again in New Zealand, it’s hard to go by legends like Harris and Johnson to stop by.
Given the amount of tackles the Tigers put up in the first half, it wasn’t surprising that they grew tired before the break. Johnson conceded a kick to Watene-Zelezniak, which eventually fell on Harris-Tavita.
Wests came on with a penalty after Adam Doueihi’s siren, but they were clearly second best.
The second half started with the Tigers less in the rear, but couldn’t build up any real pressure yet. There was a lot of hard contact in the opening 20 minutes but very few chances to score, with the line only being broken once on either side.
It came as no surprise that the Warriors picked up another two points when the opportunity arose.
The Tigers got into good ball in the last 10 minutes, but it was stodgy stuff. They played sideline to sideline too much and when they straightened up, the Warriors waited.
Luke Garner was stopped and held up by Harris-Tavita before James Roberts was contacted by Adam Pompey.
It was time for another one to send the Kiwi fans home happy. Again, it was Johnson’s boot and Watene-Zelezniak’s ability to fly that rose the highest, returning to Jesse Arthars for one last, emotional try.
https://www.theroar.com.au/2022/07/03/warriors-too-strong-for-tigers-on-emotional-return-to-new-zealand/ After 1038 days of waiting, the Warriors celebrate heartily with a big win over Tigers in an emotional homecoming