Warriors end NRL playoff drought

Warriors players celebrate a try to Agnatius Paasi during their match against the Panthers. Photo...
Warriors players celebrate a try to Agnatius Paasi during their match against the Panthers. Photo: Getty
The Warriors are in the NRL finals, and what a way to do it.

This was supposed to be a tense, nervy affair, but they blew the Panthers off the park, with an emphatic 36-16 victory last night.

They scored six tries — including a hat-trick to David Fusitu'a — and could have had a few more.

The result means the Warriors have sealed a place in the top eight for the first time since 2011.

And depending on how the other results fall, they could be in contention for a home final, bringing September football back to Mt Smart after a decade.

But that's the future. For the moment, let's celebrate this performance. It was a brutal, bruising, battering ram of a display. And don't forget the beauty, as some of the handling and movement was breathtaking.

And when the Warriors had to defend, they did it with commitment, twice withstanding three consecutive sets of six.

No one should get too carried away, as Penrith were a bit of a rabble at times, finally showing the effects of the off-field dramas at the club.

At the opportune moment, the Warriors produced one of their best opening quarters all season.

They ran hard, with intent, and hit even harder. Gone was the indecisive efforts of last week in Sydney, epitomised by James Gavet smashing Trent Merrin halfway to Auckland Airport in the opening minutes.

Gavet started with fire and brimstone, as did the entire pack, with fellow front rower Agnatius Paasi showing nifty footwork to dive over from dummy half in the fifth minute.

That lit the fuse on a cold night at Mt Smart. From there, all bets were off; the Warriors showed a willingness to chance their arm, twice running on the fifth tackle as space opened up. But, importantly, they were willing to do the groundwork first, against an intensely aggressive Panthers side who showed little regard for the 10 metre rule.

After going close on two occasions, the hosts extended their lead through Fusitu'a in the 23rd minute, after slick hands from Shaun Johnson, Simon Mannering and Mason Lino created space for the winger.

Just three minutes later, there was more to celebrate for the animated crowd, with Lino making probably the most important 12m-run of his career so far. After receiving an offload from Mannering, who did well to absorb contact, Lino propped, then showed his swift acceleration and strength to scoot over near the posts, despite four defenders being in close proximity.

Penrith came back into the contest with an opportunist try to Josh Mansour just before halftime, after a period of territorial dominance.

The Warriors were again fast out of the blocks in the second half, with Fusitu'a crossing while some of the punters were still taking their seats.

There was a lot to admire in the try, from Lino's pinpoint bomb to Tohu Harris' quickness of thought to draw defenders. Fusitu'a completed his hat-trick after a Johnson bust, then a Solomone Kata try in the 66th minute sealed the result.

The Warriors went off the boil in the final 10 minutes, as the Panthers crossed for two consolation tries, as the home side eased to the finish. But the job was done, and the monkey is off the back.

Warriors 36 (Paasi, Fusitu'a 3, Lino, Kata tries; Johnson 4 cons, 2 pens), Panthers 16 (Mansour, Blake, Merrin tries; N Cleary 2 cons). Halftime: 18-4.

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