Warriors coach Andrew McFadden has come through a bruising week with a mix of relief and pride after his understrength side lifted for a 26-10 NRL win over St George Illawarra.
The home side had 10 players unavailable through either injury or being dumped to reserve grade for breaking team protocol after a night out in Melbourne at the start of the week.
That followed their limp 42-0 defeat to the Storm on Monday and facing opponents they had lost to in their previous 11 meetings.
But a team stacked with fringe players, given a big cheer by the 12,752 crowd when they ran out, showed plenty of endeavour in a win that lifts the Warriors up to 10th.
“Relief is a big one,” McFadden said of his post-match emotions on Sunday.
“It’s been a big week and probably not many people understand how big a week that was for the players and how much pressure they were under but I’m very proud.”
The Warriors scored four tries to two, with two players not originally selected – Matthew Allwood and Jeff Robson – getting four-pointers in Auckland.
They climb one place above the Dragons and are out of the top eight only by points differential.
The Warriors had sent six players – including first-team regulars Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino and Bodene Thompson – to reserve grade after a night out was followed by some of them missing a morning team meeting.
McFadden said their replacements, including the likes of lock John Palavi, playing his first NRL match in two years, brought plenty of energy.
As for whether the six who were stood down would be able to force their way back for the Warriors’ next match, against Penrith in Christchurch in two weeks, he said it was a case of wait and see.
“Everyone makes mistake and those guys have made mistakes, and they’ve been held accountable and they deserve a second chance,” he said.
“Whether that is enough to get them in the team, we’ll see.”
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor said attitude was a key difference between the sides.
With the Dragons down 18-10 at halftime, he was confident his team had second-half points in them.
“But unfortunately, they just ran a lot harder than us and tackled a lot harder than us, and that’s the game of footy,” he said.
“Attitude is everything. A lot of about rugby league is mental strength and today we just weren’t mentally tough.”
The Dragons’ cause wasn’t helped by having tries to Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall rubbed out on review because of obstruction by lead runners.
In the second instance, the Warriors, rather than being pegged back to 12-12, swept upfield from the penalty and Charlie Gubb’s converted try made for an 18-6 scoreline.
McGregor was philosophical about the bunker’s decisions.
“They had a big bearing on the momentum of how the game changes during that period but you just have to move on from that.”