Shaun Johnson continued his brilliant season for the New Zealand Warriors as they defeated the Canterbury Bulldogs 24-12 in Sydney last night to climb back into the top eight.
Playing as well as ever in his 13th season in the National Rugby League, 32-year-old Johnson came up with two try assists, two forced dropouts and 722 kick metres as the Warriors racked up their sixth win of 2023.
"Shaun leads with his voice and he leads with his actions and that's very powerful when a player can do that," Warriors coach Andrew Webster said post-match.
Johnson put his stamp on the game early with two beautifully weighted grubber kicks - the first to earn force a line dropout and the second to set up Josh Curran for a try off the ensuing set. The halfback converted for a 6-0 lead.
A penalty against Warriors hooker Freddy Lussick for a strip gave the Bulldogs their first opportunity and they came close through winger Jacob Kiraz but Marcelo Montoya did enough in cover defence to deny him.
The Warriors extended their lead in the 26th minute when Dylan Walker put Addin Fonua-Blake into a hole with a sweet short ball and the big man grabbed his fifth try of the season. Johnson converted for a 12-0 lead.
With the Bulldogs threatening late in the half it was Adam Pompey coming up with an intercept to defuse the situation and turn defence into attack for the Warriors, who grabbed their third try through Dallin Watene-Zelezniak from a Johnson cross kick.
An error by Montoya off a bomb gave the Bulldogs an early chance and Matt Burton rolled the ball into the in-goal to earn a repeat set before Harrison Edwards strolled through the middle of the Warriors' ruck to grab his first NRL try.
Bulldogs fullback Hayze Perham then provided a spark with a long run but a poor play the ball by Corey Waddell handed the ball back to the Warriors and the danger was averted.
With 14 minutes to play the Bulldogs looked to have closed the gap but when Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad dropped the ball and Jake Averillo raced away to score b but replays showed Josh Reynolds had stripped the ball illegally.
Warriors youngster Ronald Volkman then put the result beyond doubt when he scored from close range to make it 24-6.
Bulldogs bench player Jayden Okunbor showed plenty of power to score from 10 metres out to pull the margin back to 12 points but that's as close as the blue and whites would get as they slumped to a seventh loss of the season.