It’s far too premature for the “this is our year” chants to start circulating with any genuine intent but the first match of Nathan Brown’s tenure offered hope the Warriors will be a different beast in 2021.
Central Coast Stadium in Gosford, the Warriors’ adopted home for the foreseeable future, turned on sweltering conditions on Saturday afternoon. Temperatures soared past 31 degrees which made drink breaks mandatory and left the big men in the middle battling for breath.
By the finish, there was only one team hacking the heat.
Tries to Bayley Sironen, one of eight new signings this season, Leeson Ah Mau and Kodi Nikorima propelled the Warriors to an impressive 19-6 opening round victory over the Gold Coast Titans, widely tipped to provide much sterner tests after luring Origin stars David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui during the offseason.
Brown, taking the reins of his third NRL club, was expected to improve the Warriors attack by bringing back the offload and significantly bolstering the forward pack after acquiring the likes of Addin Fonua-Blake and Ben Murdoch-Masila.
Fonua-Blake impressed on club debut by carrying for 192 metres – his late footwork at the line, offloads and leg drive proving difficult to handle.
Yet this win, in the energy-sapping heat, revealed a committed defensive attitude not seen from the Warriors for some time, with constant pressure forcing frequent mistakes from the Titans, who scored their only try through Corey Thompson with six minutes remaining.
Bunty Afoa’s impact off the bench and Tohu Harris’ consistent efforts in the middle of the park helped lay the platform as the Warriors completed a remarkable 91 per cent of their sets (39-43) – that control merely one positive sign.
The Warriors’ kicking game struggled at times but Nikorima recovered from second-half cramp to assume responsibility and steadily build on the Warriors’ 6-0 halftime advantage.
The Warriors also had to battle on after losing hooker Wayde Egan and Sironen to head knocks in the second half.
While attacking highlights were few and far between in the first spell, the Warriors defence stood out.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck pulled off two try-saving tackles, Peta Hiku and new signing Sironen put on big shots. But the most impressive stand came to close out the first half, with the Warriors repelling three repeat sets on their own line.
Former Souths back-rower Sironen made an early impression with his shot forcing an error and he then scored the Warriors’ first try of the season with a simple hit and spin to expose tiring Titans defence.
The Warriors could have applied more pressure in the first half but several Chanel Harris-Tavita bombs to the corner lacked height to hand over possession without a contest.
Led, as always, by Ken Maumalo, the Warriors backline did a solid job of helping their pack bring the ball out of their half.
As far as starts go, Brown could not have asked for much more, not least given the Warriors have lost 17 round-one matches in their history.
Now for the consistency Brown has demanded since taking charge.
Warriors 19 (Bayley Sironen, Leeson Ah Mau, Kodi Nikorima tries; Nikorima 3 cons, Chanel Harris-Tavita field goal)
Titans 6 (Corey Thompson try; Ashley Taylor con)
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