2023 NRL Round 3: Warriors 22, Cowboys 14

Jack Harbidge reviews the NZ Warriors vs North Queensland game as the 2-4 Cowboys travel to Mt Smart Stadium looking to avenge their loss to the Warriors at home in Round 3.

Result

New Zealand Warriors 22
Tries: (4) Addin Fonua-Blake 3rd; Edward Kosi 28th; Josh Curran 50th; Dylan Walker 61st
Goals: (3) Shaun Johnson 4th, 63rd, 76th

North Queensland Cowboys 14
Tries: (3) Murray Taulagi 18th; Reuben Cotter 37th; Valentine Holmes 56th
Goals:
(1) Valentine Holmes 58th
Field Goal: N/A

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The game opened up early with two interceptions, the more telling of which came from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who turned defence into attack with a great defensive read. Off the back of which, the Warriors shifted left and then set up for Addin Fonua-Blake to expose the weak middle defence of the Cowboys and score under the posts.

Shaun Johnson converted for the Warriors to lead 6-0 just five minutes in and Todd Payton was made to regret fielding a lightweight and more mobile front row. The Warriors continued to dominate but the Cowboys weren’t without promise, making metres at will with quick tempo at the ruck, but they were unable to come up with anything more than a kick on fifth.

The Cowboys were gifted an attacking set 15 minutes in, from a Warriors error, but a clunky attack couldn’t convert it into points and instead the visitors forced a goal-line drop-out that Shaun Johnson proceeded to kick straight out on the full for a penalty. The Cowboys pressured the line off the penalty, forcing a set restart in the process and ultimately another goal-line drop-out.

The Cowboys forced a Warriors knock on and another set restart on the ensuing set and the pressure ultimately told with Murray Taulagi crossing on his reappearance after injury. Valentine Holmes missed the touchline conversion and the Warriors kept the lead 6-4 with 20 minutes played.

Off the back of the kick-off, the Cowboys enjoyed yet more success and were marched up the pitch with a penalty and set restarts, only for Taulagi to knock on over the line. They continued to dominate possession and field position but continued to make errors, unable to capitalise on any ascendancy.

In stark contrast, the Warriors had a set following a Peta Hiku error and scored with ease, with Marcelo Montoya beating poor Cowboys defence and offloading to Edward Kosi who finished off in style. Johnson missed a fairly kickable conversion and the Warriors lead was extended to 10-4 despite having been on the back foot for most of the game.

The Cowboys gained yet more field position with a relieving penalty on the first tackle and went up to the Warriors’ red zone with Taulagi going over in the corner only to have a foot in touch while under duress from a Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad shoulder charge. The following penalty gave the Cowboys a reprise, though the visitors never looked like scoring and instead opted to force more pressure through a goal-line drop-out. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak nearly manufactured another interception in defence only to knock on, and then Chad Townsend knocked on off the ensuing scrum and wasted yet more good ball.

Townsend was given a let off by Watene-Zelezniak, who produced an incorrect play of the ball on the ensuing tackle and the Cowboys attacked the Warriors’ line again. The pressure finally told with Reuben Cotter slipping off a tackle on a lead line to cross to the left of the sticks, drawing the Cowboys to within two points going into half-time after Holmes missed a fairly straightforward conversion short of the target.

The Warriors were to get the first penalty of the second half after the two sides traded sets for the first three sets, only for Jackson Ford to knock on off the tap and give the Cowboys good field position on the Warriors’ 30 metre line. The Cowboys – as for the majority of the first half – came up with no incisive attack and instead dribbled a ball to the Warriors on fifth tackle. The Warriors produced an excellent set coming off their line to pin the Cowboys in their own 10 metres off the back of a kick as they continued to outplay the visitors.

A relieving penalty gave the Cowboys another leg up and another chance to attack the Warriors’ line with just seven minutes played. The Cowboys could only manage another scrappy kick towards the Warriors’ in-goal but they were fortunate to get a knock on call from Chris Sutton as Nicoll-Klokstad tried to gather the ball. With the extra possession, the Cowboys never looked like scoring and kicked the ball dead for the Warriors to come away with a seven tackle set – off the back of which they scored with ease through Josh Curran to stretch their lead to six points after Johnson couldn’t convert.

The Warriors made another error to give the Cowboys good attacking field position on the ensuing set but the Cowboys offered nothing in attack again, unable to break down the excellent Warriors defence and instead tried to pin the Warriors in their own half with their defence.

They did so successfully and managed to force a goal-line drop-out off the following set – though with their attack going backwards after their 50th tackle in the Warriors’ 20 metre zone, Josh Drinkwater saved their blushes with a perfectly weighted kick to Holmes who managed to pounce on a good bounce and score. He converted his own try and levelled up the scores with just over 20 minutes to play.

The Cowboys lofted a bomb on fifth tackle on the ensuing set and they had looked to score off the back of an Edward Kosi error, but The Bunker found Hiku offside in the build up before he could rule on Kyle Feldt’s hand being in touch on the put down.

The Warriors made the most of the penalty and forced a goal-line drop-out with an excellent kick from Johnson. He used his reflexes to great effect after, gathering a kick rebound to spread it to Dylan Walker who crossed with ease through lacklustre Cowboys defence. Johnson converted what Holmes couldn’t and the Warriors were on their way to a second win over the Cowboys: 20-14 with 16 minutes to play.

The Cowboys pressed the Warriors line after a repeat set and could only muster one up runs and they looked to have spurned more good ball possession with Jeremiah Nanai knock on only to receive a penalty after a successful Captain’s Challenge. They wasted the possession anyway with Scott Drinkwater knocking on soon after.

The Warriors continued to dominate the game play with very little possession but dropped the ball coming out of their own end only to land a successful Captain’s Challenge and a consequent penalty to relieve pressure. Off the back of which, the Warriors carved up the lacklustre Cowboys defence and got to within a few metres of their line with nine minutes to play.

The Cowboys were the more drained of the two sides despite having more possession – and put the nail in their own coffin with a penalty for a tackle off the ball for Johnson to try and convert and put the Warriors 22-14 in front. Johnson missed but Drinkwater kicked the ball out on the drop-out to give him another go from in front of the sticks, gifting the Warriors a 22-14 win.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTS

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3 – Shaun Johnson (Warriors)
2 – Charnze Nicoll-Klockstad (Warriors)
1 – Addin Fonua-Blake (Warriors)

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