The New Zealand Warriors have snapped a four-game losing streak at home with an impressive 20-8 win over the Newcastle Knights to remain firmly in the Telstra Premiership's top-four conversation.
It was a fitting way to mark hooker Issac Luke's 250th NRL appearance, in complete contrast to the identical milestone for Mitchell Pearce who did all he could to inspire the Knights despite playing under an injury cloud.
The three tries to one victory was the Warrioirs first at Mt Smart Stadium since their 26-4 win over the West Tigers on May 5 - or 14 weeks ago – and lifted the Auckland club to sixth on the ladder.
They will remain there providing the Melbourne Storm stick to the form book and overcome visiting Cronulla on Sunday.
Even if the Sharks get up at AMMI Stadium, the Warriors 13th win of the season and 28 competition points gives them a legitimate shot at a home playoff for the first time in a decade, and makes their first September football since they reached the 2011 grand final.
This was a win hard-earned up front with eye-catching contributions by Simon Mannering, Luke, try-scorer Adam Blair, prop Agnatius Paasi and charging forwards, Bunty Afoa and Jazz Tevaga.
Out the back Roger Tuivasa-Sheck continues to astound with 338 metres from 24 runs, which also included 10 tackle breaks.
Match: Warriors v Knights
Round 22 -
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Blake Green and Shaun Johnson slowly took a stranglehold on proceedings after a slow start while the wingers – David Fusitu'a with his finishing and bomb defuses – and Ken Maumalo with his hard yards on defence made wore down the visitors in a tough encounter.
Ken Sio handed the Knights the early scoreboard initiative, when he gathered a borderline forward pass from Pearce before spinning past centre Gerard Beale, triggering a domino effect in the Warriors right edge defence as Johnson, Fusitu'a, Agnatius Paasi, James Gavet and finally Beale again fell off the winger as he crashed over.
It was a worrying sign after a slow start from the Warriors who were being bossed by Pearce and looked one dimensional in attack themselves. If it wasn't one off running, it was grubber kicks from Green and Johnson that the Knights read like a picture book.
But as is the way with these Warriors, they flicked the switch by starting to spin the ball.
Second rower Blair drew the hosts level in the 28th minute when he stormed onto a popped pass from Beale after a telling initial thrust from Mannering and lead-up silky work from Tuivasa-Sheck and Johnson.
Johnson slotted the conversion and an even better one six minutes later when Fusitu'a bumped off Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga to start repaying the Warriors' faith in him.
The big winger's 16th try in 19 games was his first since signing a five-year contract extension that will keep him at Mt Smart until 2023. It also took the Warriors to halftime with a 12-4 buffer.
The Warriors needed a fast re-start after not scoring a second-half point in their three previous outings and had a chance six minutes in only for Fusitu'a to spill a chest high pass from Johnson with a one-on-one opportunity.
Fortunately for the winger, Green waltzed through a gaping hole and some equally porous Knights defence to score shortly afterwards, ending a break sparked by a nifty offload by Tevaga and another just like it from Luke.
Johnson's conversion made it 18-4 and when Knights lock Aidan Guerra lost control of an uncontested grubber from Pearce, it was curtains for the visitors.
The exclamation mark was a mammoth shot from Paasi on Sio before Johsnon capped a workmanlike 8-0 second half for the Warriors with a late penalty goal (77th minute).
News & Notes: The Warriors now own a 50% win record at home (5-5)...this was the Auckland club's 20th win over the Knights....Pasami Saulo became the 300th Knights player in the club's 30-year history when he made his NRL debut... the Knights are away to the embattled Panthers next Saturday while the Warriors travel for the last time this regular season, away to the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 14,395.