Recognising major milestones is one thing, delivering on them is quite another but the mix couldn’t have been better on Saturday.
On an historic night the One New Zealand Warriors honoured Shaun Johnson, Dylan Walker, Addin Fonua-Blake and Wayde Egan the best way they could with an all-important win. The bare minimum. Milestones lose much of their lustre when they aren’t iced with victory.
In the days leading up to this all-important clash against Parramatta, the club set about acknowledging the fabulous foursome as it would for any player or players achieving significant moments in their careers.
This was still extra special, though. Having four players marking four major moments in the same match is all but unheard of. Certainly no one has come forward with an example that matches what unfolded – Shaun Johnson playing his 200th game for the Warriors (only the fifth player to do so) with Dylan Walker lining up for his 200th career game, Addin Fonua-Blake his 150th and Wayde Egan his 100th.
Family members were brought into meetings to present the players with their commemorative jerseys while ex-coaches, former teammates and rugby league legends provided a raft of video messages.
At the same time, though, the balance was struck between the combined career moments and the need to dispassionately prepare for a critical battle against the Eels, all the more so because the Warriors were coming off their most disappointing performance of the year against South Sydney and Parramatta had strung together five straight wins.
What unfolded was the ultimate occasion.
The milestone men ran onto CommBank Stadium first and then the whole team collectively unleashed in what evolved into a ruthless display, the 46-10 result setting a new mark for the most points the Warriors have run up against the Eels in Sydney; it eclipsed the 40 points scored in the original meeting between the two sides in 1995 and equalled the 36-point winning margin created in that 40-4 result 28 years ago.
On a night when the Warriors had contributors across the park, Johnson, Walker, Fonua-Blake and Egan all revelled.
As he has done consistently, Johnson again directed the side around the park expertly while running the ball 15 times for 105 metres, making 434 metres from 14 kicks, forcing two goal-line drop-outs, making 26 tackles and kicking seven out of eight goals (the one miss hitting an upright).
Walker’s impact on the game’s tempo was palpable when he came on midway through the first half. With his dynamic running game he made 126 metres from 11 runs, had a line break, a line break assist, two tackles breaks and 25 tackles as well as a try (a work of art involving Egan and Johnson before Tohu Harris delivered the sweetest of passes for Walker to waltz though).
The big man Fonua-Blake has been punching dents and holes in defensive lines with regularity this season and he was at it again with 193 metres from 18 runs including 63 post-contact metres, two tackle breaks, three off loads and 26 tackles. Parramatta defenders were stretched to handle him all night.
And the silky Egan had one of his best nights, probing and teasing around the ruck with 72 metres from seven carries, two line break assists, a line break and 32 tackles.
It was a glorious night and then time to honour the four achievers who had taken their combined total of NRL appearances to 694 with their milestone outings.