By Greg Robertson
Three second-half tries in 10 minutes helped the Junior Warriors run all over the Rabbits in Sydney today.
It was the third win from three matches against South Sydney this season, but infinitely the most important with the 42-28 result in the Toyoto Cup grand final providing the first title of any kind for the Warriors Club.
After holding a slender 12-10 lead at the break, the Warriors turned on the after-burners with halfback Shaun Johnson leading the charge through an impressive kicking and running display.
The scoreline after 13 minutes was nothing like what the Warriors have been used to in finals football of late, blowing the South Sydney Roosters off the park to hold a 12-0 lead.
Though for the first seven minutes after kick off it was a different story, with Souths’ halfback Adam Reynolds getting an early 40/20 and showing his chipping and kicking skills to force the Warriors to line drop out early.
But, despite the early pressure from the Rabbitohs, the Warriors taught them a lesson on how to turn pressure into points and they did so with their first foray into opposition territory.
A Johnson in-goal grubber was unable to be controlled by South’s fullback Malcolm Webster and Elijah Taylor was first on the scene to slap a hand on it. Johnson converted for the Warriors to lead 6-0.
Within seconds, Johnson was the architect of the Warriors second try, running the ball and offloading with an over-the-top pass for Siuatonga Likiliki to get his 19th try of the season. Johnson converted off the post from wide out for a 12-0 lead.
The Rabbitohs had their chances, held up within the first few minutes of the match and going close but for a knock on in the 20th minute, but struggled to adapt with the big warriors pack able to get 60 metres each set, skillfully followed up by the excellent kicking games of Johnson and five-eight Carlos Tuimavave.
But the big pack and wide men were caught out in the 27th minute. Souths had a scrum 70 metres out and Reynolds let loose with a kick for his speedsters to chase. Souths 17-year-old flyer James Roberts left all in his dust, nudged it over the line with his foot and fell on the pill. Reynolds converted for 12-6.
The Warriors suddenly looked rattled, kicking out on the full to hand over possession and Souths rubbed salt in a wound when Matt Mundine gave Junior Vaivai the space needed to stretch out and score. The conversion missed and the Junior Warriors had a two point lead, 12-10.
Ten minutes into the second half the Warriors took advantage of a weak Rabbitoh’s blindside defence. A Johnson grubber ended up under the hand of Taylor for the stand-in captain to score his second try and the kick taking his side out to 18-10.
Two minutes later, Likiliki showed his class to bump off six would-be tacklers, offload to fullback Glen Fisiiahi who stepped inside to score. Johnson kept his perfect record in tacked and converted again for 24-10.
Then the floodgates opened – if they hadn’t already.
Johnson, the classiest on the park along with Jack Gibson medal winner, Tuimavave, chipped and regathered then flung the ball out from underneath him to the man-mountain that is Sam Lousi to score. Johnson’s kick made it 30-10.
Then it was the turn of “The Junior Beast”, Elijah Niko, to force his way across the line and Johnson highlighted the total control by once again adding the extras, 36-10.
The Warriors eased, and Rabbitohs' lock Blake Judd and captain Nathan Peats managed to grab two late tries to make the score respectable at 36-22.
But the Junior Warriors were not done, Nafe Seluini accelerating away to slide under the posts. Johnson added his seventh conversion from as many attempts for 42-22.
The match was well over when big Jack Tulemau added a consolation try in the final minutes for Souths.