The Warriors have finally succumbed to the delights of the top four as they ventured into the upper reaches of the NRL ladder last night, with their 26-12 victory over Penrith.
Now positioned in fourth, they have everything to play for over their remaining two matches of the regular season. Win both games and they are almost assured of a home semi-final. It won’t be easy though, with the spectre of premiers St George looming large next week, and then a home encounter with the Jonathon Thurston led Cowboys a week later.
Tough matches both of them, but certainly neither opposition provide an insurmountable problem for the Warriors.
While their form over the previous two weeks has at times been scratchy, the stars still appear to be aligning nicely for the Auckland based team, as their form has been more than enough to put pressure on the rugby league summit at the appropriate time of the season.
And it’s not surprising really. Especially, when they have fully loaded strike weapons all across the park just waiting with unabated glee at the prospect of wreaking havoc amongst their rivals. This is none more so than in the case of Shaun Johnson and Kevin Locke.
The former seems to enjoy nothing more than gallivanting his way throughout the Rugby League arenas of the world with menacing long distance forays that regularly involve eighty metre trips at high speed. He doesn’t just take the easy route, either. Often he can be seen zigzagging his way to the opposition in-goal area, or taking a more scenic trip that involves running on the diagonal or an arc when necessary. But then, when one possesses blistering speed, one can achieve those special feats that mere mortals cannot.
He did it against the Cowboys. Then he let loose on the Broncos with another long range effort. Now he has done it against the Panthers and outrun them on a length of the field effort. Anyone would think this stuff was nothing more than run of the mill for him.
It’s not just Johnson’s speed and ability to find the try line, though. Late in the second half, with the Warriors hot on attack in the Panthers red zone, he put a delicate little grubber kick through Penrith’s defence for Manu Vatuvei to latch onto and put the result beyond doubt. He appears to have it all. With heavy doses of hard work, Johnson could be anything.
Let us not forget Locke. Here is a guy that goes from strength to strength with each passing week. Amazing isn’t it, what competition for places can do. With Glen Fishiahi breathing down his neck, Locke has been spurred on to greater heights. He is constantly a threat from the back.
On the stroke of halftime he scooped up a wayward chip kick from Penrith and dashed sixty metres for a sparkling solo try. On another occasion he was responsible for chasing down and stopping an errant Panther who had lofty ideas above his station of racing from well within his own half for a try.
And it was Locke who offloaded to send Johnson on his way earlier in the half.
Yep, the future is bright at Warriors central.