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WARRIORS THUMP MANLY AT PACKED HOUSE IN CHRISTCHURCH

WARRIORS THUMP MANLY AT PACKED HOUSE IN CHRISTCHURCH

The Warriors overcame a sluggish start to continue their hoodoo-busting ways in 2018 with a 34-14 thrashing of Manly – breaking a seven-match losing streak against the Sea Eagles and notching just their seventh win in 29 games at NZ venues not named Mount Smart Stadium.

It was also just their third win in seven visits to Christchurch, the result – or more accurately the emphatic nature of it – thrilling the vast majority of the 17,357-strong turnout at Rugby League Park.

But there was just one rhetorical question on every Warriors fan’s lips at fulltime: how good is it to have Shaun Johnson back?

The halfback talisman, returning from a four-week injury layoff, restored the Warriors’ dangerous attacking edge and exploded in the second half to lead the side home.

David Fusitu’a cashed in from Johnson’s genius with a rapid hat-trick after the break, while Issac Luke and stand-in skipper Blake Green were outstanding.

They playmakers can’t do anything without a platform, though, and Agnatius Paasi, James Gavet and Tohu Harris certainly provided that. Throw in Ken Maumalo, too, who ran for yet another game-high metres tally in yet another terrific display.

Peta Hiku would have also given the Dally M judge a bit to think about with a quality game deputising for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at fullback.

But it didn’t begin well for the Warriors.

Johnson ruined a strong first set by kicking out on the full, Sol Kata was pinged for a high tackle on opposite Brad Parker, and Manly hooker Api Koroisau burrowed over from dummy-half against minimal resistance.

Six-nil after five minutes.

The Sea Eagles were rocked by Koroisau’s exit with a foot injury 10 minutes later. Unfortunately, Christchurch’s favourite son Lewis Brown was sitting next to me in the media area rather than on the Manly bench and Matthew Wright was pitched into dummy-half.

The surrogate home team narrowly avoided conceding the first try immediately afterwards, with a Gerard Beale tip-on to David Fusitu’a called forward, and they extended the lead to eight through Trent Hodkinson’s boot following back-to-back penalties against the Warriors.

But quite possibly the greatest run of Maumalo’s career – a 50-metre, Vatuvei-like charge from a kick-return – led to Isaiah Papali’i opening the Warriors’ account, courtesy of a Blake Green short ball and a shocking misread from Shaun Lane.

Green did it again a few minutes later – with even greater guile this time – to put the Warriors’ other second-rower, Tohu Harris, in for their second.

Johnson added the extras for 12-8, a lead they held onto until halftime.

The Warriors maintained that momentum with a magical long-range effort soon after the resumption.

David Fusitu’a made a powerful break out of his own half and positioned Johnson to sprint away for a dream comeback try.

Simon Mannering was denied a barnstorming try under the posts because of Agnatius Paasi’s perpendicular play-the-ball, but the Warriors were saving up for something even more special.

Issac Luke popped a short ball for an absolutely screaming Johnson, who scorched into open territory and returned the favour for Fusitu’a, who strolled in for his 13th try in as many games this season.

‘Fus’ then streaked in for his 14th with 17 minutes to go with a patented diving finish.

Luke did a handy impression of a fullback sweeping around the back and throwing a cut-out ball.

It went from party time to full-on pandemonium in Christchurch as the big winger completed a 10-minute hat-trick, latching onto a Johnson grubber (again after involvement from Luke) after opposite Aku Uate lost his footing.

The latter try took Fusitu’a to within eight of Francis Meli’s 2003 club record with 11 regular-season matches to go.

Finally some respite came for the Sea Eagles with eight minutes left thanks to a determined effort from Brian Kelly.

But it detracted little from arguably the Warriors’ best second-half performance of the season, taking them to a 9-4 record and keeping them in the top four.

Warriors 34 (David Fusitu’a 3, Isaiah Papali’i, Tohu Harris, Shaun Johnson tries; Johnson 5 goals) d Manly 14 (Api Koroisau, Brian Kelly tries; Trent Hodkinson 3 goals) at AMI Stadium, Christchurch.

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