NRL: New Zealand Warriors start new season in familiar style against St George Illawarra Dragons

Warriors 16
Dragons 28

On this evidence, there is a lot of work ahead for the Warriors.

They had their moments but this match resembled a lot of games in the 2021 season, as a collective fade in the last 30 minutes condemned them to a 28-16 round-one defeat to an unspectacular but solid Dragons team.

Shaun Johnson showed he will make a difference but constant and sometimes inexplicable errors, as well as an inability to capitalise on promising positions, sealed their fate.

It wasn’t all bad and it could have been so different, but for a collective lapse in concentration midway through the second half.

The Warriors had shown great resolve to fight back from an early 12-0 deficit and looked favourites as they led 18-16 with 30 minutes to play, with a strong breeze behind them.

But then they seemed to switch off, with a catalogue of mistakes and head-scratching moments. The Dragons did nothing special, but made the most of the constant opportunities, with three tries in the last 23 minutes.

Bullocking Dragons winger Mikaele Ravalawa was a menace with a hat-trick, but the Warriors were masters of their own downfall.

It’s only round one, but the manner of the defeat will be particularly disappointing for everyone associated with the Auckland team.

Johnson enjoyed a promising return, while Josh Curran was the standout among a pack shaded by their opposites.

It was a nervy start from the Warriors, running into a strong breeze.

Given the pre-season emphasis on defence, the first Dragons try after just six minutes would have been disappointing, with the Warriors caught out by a simple cut-out ball and Ravalawa crossing in the corner.

The momentum had come after an unfortunate error, with the home side knocking on a Dragons line dropout, then conceding a penalty.

The Warriors continued to invite pressure and an uncharacteristic error from Addin Fonua-Blake led to the Dragons second try, finished by Jack Bird. It was more clever work from Tyrell Sloan but also a straightforward inside ball.

Their attack looked clunky – with balls hitting the deck – but they got some impetus with an opportunist try from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, with his close-range grubber hugging the sideline then taking a fortunate bounce, as Dragons defenders stood and watched.

That was the boost the Warriors needed, and they started to come into the contest. Fonua-Blake ran 50 metres from the kickoff in a stirring charge and Aaron Pene later provided some inspiration with a great defensive stop on Ravalawa.

A few plays later, Wayde Egan crossed after Johnson’s deception put the energetic Curran through the line. The Warriors finished the half well, though the Dragons kicked a penalty on the hooter.

After no profit from a Curran chargedown, a massive Johnson 40/20 from behind his 30-metre line gave the Warriors more territory, before the returning halfback capped off his good work with a short ball to send Eli Katoa over.

They had the platform but then suffered a brain fade, with a string of errors. Instead of consolidating and using the conditions to build pressure, they pushed passes and were eventually punished, with Ravalawa powering over for his second try to restore the Dragons’ lead in the 57th minute.

That sent the Warriors back into catch-up mode, which quickly turned into panic mode, with a crazy play deep inside their own half that gifted the Dragons instant territory, before Ravalawa powered across for his hat-trick.

Things didn’t get any better, as the Warriors struggled to create anything of note as they tried to find a comeback, before a late Moses Mbye try sealed the result.

Warriors 16 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Josh Curran, Eli Katoa tries; Shaun Johnson 2 cons)
Dragons 28 (Mikaele Ravalawa 3, Jack Bird, Moses Mbye tries; Zac Lomax 3 cons, pen)
Halftime 10-14

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