The New Zealand Warriors continued their excellent 2023 NRL season with a thumping 48-18 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons in Wollongong on Friday night, where Dallin Watene-Zelezniak scored four of the Warriors, nine tries.
New Zealand Warriors 48
Tries: (9) Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 5th, 49th, 70th, 72nd; Marcelo Montoya 26th; Bayley Sironen 30th; Jackson Ford 33rd; Shaun Johnson 54th; Rocco Berry 57th
Goals: (6) Shaun Johnson 31st, 34th, 55th, 58th, 71st, 73rd
The Warriors opened the scoring in the fifth minute, taking advantage of Mikaele Ravalawa dropping a relatively easy bomb, and it was Dallin Watene-Zelezniak who scored – for the fifth match in a row – in the corner with ease. Shaun Johnson missed the conversion and the score remained 4-0.
Early errors were hurting the Warriors, and they were punished in the 13th minute when the Dragons’ speedy fullback Tyrell Sloan sliced through the Warriors’ left edge defence to score. And Sloan almost inspired another try five minutes later but Ravalawa couldn’t sneak over. The conversion for the earlier try saw the Dragons take the lead 6-4.
The see-sawing of the lead continued in the 26th minute when a loose pass from Luke Metcalf that found the ground also found its way to Marcelo Montoya, who did very well to score through two Dragons defenders, wrestling the ball to the ground. Shaun Johnson missed his second conversion of the night and the score stayed at 8-6.
After a lengthy (successful) Captain’s Challenge for the Warriors – where an audible cry from the crowd urged them to “play the game”, which was fair enough – the Warriors scored twice in the next three minutes to blow the Dragons away. The first came when Johnson laid on the perfect grubber and Bayley Sironen found space and the ball to score the try. The next Warriors try minutes later from was also from a kick, as Dylan Walker wanted a bomb more than the Dragons fullback, and Jackson Ford was on hand for the offload to score under the posts. Johnson kicked both conversions for 20-6 lead.
The second half started with Warriors forward Marata Niukore being sent to the sin bin within minutes for high contact on Moses Suli, who left the field for a HIA and didn’t return. It was Niukore’s third sin binning of the season and third report. Both are season highs.
And the Dragons made the Warriors pay not long after when Jacob Liddle set up Zane Musgrove to crash over from close to the line with almost his first touch of the game. The easy conversion closed the score to 20-12. But the Warriors defied the numerical disadvantage a few minutes later when Watene-Zelezniak’s acrobatics in the corner saw him score his second try. Johnson’s off night with conversions continued but the Warriors still led 24-12.
Not long after the Warriors regained their 13th player they extended their lead with two quick tries in quick time. First Johnson ran onto a great offload close to the line from Addin Fonua-Blake. Then Rocco Berry was on hand to receive a selfless offload in the corner from Watene-Zelezniak for the second try in three minutes. Johnson converted both for a 36-12 lead and the Warriors were on fire and the Dragons officially out of puff.
St George Illawarra stopped the one-way traffic with 13 minutes to go as Francis Molo dived on a Jayden Sullivan grubber from dummy half under the posts and reduce the score to 36-18.
The joy didn’t last more than a few minutes as the Warriors passed 40 points and Watene-Zelezniak secured a third career hat-trick with some more of his signature try-scoring acrobatics. Then minutes later he scored his fourth – a more regulation try this time which owed equally to his speed and inept Dragons defence. Johnson was involved in the lead up to both tries and converted both, and the score had quickly blown out to 48-18.
For the Warriors it was a third win in a row and their third away win on a Friday from three games in 2023. It sees the New Zealand side sit fifth on the ladder (temporarily) and just two points from the competition leaders. It was arguably one of their best performances of a season that is looking increasingly exciting for their fans, and the NRL in general.
St George Illawarra were good in small patches but quite poor in the second half. The fact that Ben Hunt played after speculation he was out the door immediately was a positive sign, but tonight’s performance probably won’t convince him to stay around long, nor was he particularly wonderful either. It certainly won’t be enough for the Dragons to challenge for the top eight this season and they will struggle to avoid the wooden spoon.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTSEmbed from Getty Images
3 – Shaun Johnson (Warriors)
2 – Tohu Harris (Warriors)
1 – Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Warriors)