A sublime performance from halfback Shaun Johnson has guided the New Zealand Warriors to a 24-14 victory over the Wests Tigers tonight at Leichhardt Oval in front of 11,436 fans.
With a point to prove following the midweek news of Benji Marshall's impending departure from the club, the Wests Tigers started indifferently, spilling the ball in the first set and being forced to defend their line early.
The Tigers were quickly able to turn rocks into diamonds at the other end of the park, winger David Nofoaluma benefiting from a simple overlap to score in the corner just a few minutes later. Playing some exciting footy, they went on to add to the scoreboard in the 14th minute when Chris Lawrence made the Warriors defence look feeble. Two misses from two attempts from Marshall meant the hosts remained within striking distance for a gallant Warriors side, who were able to get on the board themselves through halfback Shaun Johnson in the 30th minute.
What followed was one of the better individual efforts of the season, with Tigers' winger Tim Simona swatting off several defenders before kicking ahead, seemingly for inside support runners, instead chasing the kick himself and getting to the ball first to score. The try meant the hosts led by eight at halftime.
Another diabolical start for the Tigers saw the Warriors score in the first minute of the second half, Konrad Hurrell grabbing his side's second try.
The Tigers fought back and almost scored in the 50th minute before New Zealand took the lead for the first time in the 56th. A Tigers kick across field was collected by Shaun Johnson and the young half sprinted almost 90 metres to score and put his side in front. Simon Mannering almost followed it up minutes later but was ruled to have knocked on.
Mannering wasn't to be denied a second time in the 69th minute though, benefiting from a Shaun Johnson kick ahead to score the match-sealer. Johnson maintained a perfect kicking record nailing four from four, before missing a field goal attempt just seconds from fulltime.
The win puts the Warriors within swatting distance of the edge of the eight, equal with a glut of teams on 20 competition points as the race for positions in the lower half of the top 8 heats up. The Tigers now sit four points adrift with the Broncos and Cowboys leap-frogging them on points differential.
Next week the Tigers will face a stern test when they host Manly at Campbelltown Stadium on Monday night, while the Warriors will be looking to test their credentials when they host the Storm at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday afternoon.