In-form playmaker Shaun Johnson produced yet more magic to guide the Warriors to a 28-14 win over Melbourne on Sunday in a pulsating NRL contest in Auckland.
In an encounter featuring some spectacular tries, Johnson’s effort with 13 minutes to go, when he skipped past three defenders, halted a dangerous Storm fightback.
But rather than the halfback’s footwork, it’s the way he’s directing the team around the park, in tandem with five-eighth Chad Townsend, that has coach Andrew McFadden particularly satisfied.
“I know he can do all that – score the tries and make the breaks,” McFadden said.
“But it’s really the control that he and Chad are showing, their game management, that is really important for us as the moment.”
The win before a 17,278 crowd was the Warriors’ third in a row, lifting them above Melbourne in the top eight.
They had to do it without three front-liners – Manu Vatuvei, Konrad Hurrell and Ryan Hoffman – all withdrawals from the originally named side because of injury.
McFadden said injuries throughout the year had made it hard to consolidate some combinations, but the Warriors had wanted to be a side that coped with adversity.
“We certainly missed Manu’s go-forward but that meant other people had to fill in for us,” he said.
“It’s a positive for us that we can handle that.”
The loss was Melbourne’s fifth in six matches and coach Craig Bellamy said he couldn’t fault the effort of his players.
But he said a bad start – the Storm trailed 16-0 at halftime – eventually cost them.
“They (the Warriors) scored some tries which would have been good to watch if you were on the other side,” he said.
“I didn’t particularly enjoy them myself, but I would say they were too good on the night.
“The start held them in good stead. It was really the second half before we started to get into the game.”
Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk sounded a warning with a 40-20 from the game’s first set.
But it was the Warriors who began to dominate the early exchanges and tries to winger Tuimoala Lolohea, centre David Fusitu’a with a brilliant one-handed put-down and back-rower Bodene Thompson had them in control at the break.
But the Storm made the Warriors pay for turning the ball over in their own half as winger Marika Koroibete and prop Kenny Bromwich grabbed tries.
The Warriors then came up with an outrageous response.
Hooker Nathan Friend gathered in a kick, then delivered a pass between his legs as he fell over Bromwich’s back.
Johnson continued the attack with a back-flip and Lolohea produced a diving finish for his second try.
Melbourne hit straight back through Bromwich’s second touchdown, before Johnson effectively closed out the contest with his fourth try in three matches.