NRL 2019: Stephen Kearney praises Warriors' effort in milestone match against Dragons

After a challenging month on the field, Warriors coach Stephen Kearney was delighted to see his squad return to the winners' circle in a come-from-behind win over the Dragons in Brisbane.

Trailing 18-6 at the break, the Warriors 20 unanswered points in the second half to win 26-18, their third victory of the season.

While the first half was lacklustre and scrappy, their second-half efforts were outstanding as the players produced probably their best 40 minutes of the season with two tries and only two handling errors, showing glimpses of the Warriors squad of 2018 which reached the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

The win was thoroughly needed by Kearney's side, who were staring down a fifth-straight loss.

The match was Kearney's 100th as an NRL coach, and the 46-year-old was feeling a little dusty in his post-match press conference after his players made him scull a beer in the changing sheds to celebrate the occasion.

"I'm really proud of the effort, it's been a challenging month of footy," said Kearney.

"Morale and confidence was fairly low after the Knights' loss last week [26-18]. I thought they came to Mt Smart and gave us a bit of a touch-up.

"To the boys' credit at halftime, the point was about sticking at it and hanging in there. We needed to fix a few things in defence and give ourselves the opportunity.

"I thought they did that. They never stopped going at them. It would have been easy for the lads to tuck the ball under the wing and not play any footy but they went after it and that's what I was really proud of. It takes courage."

Kodi Nikorima celebrates with Ken Maumalo.
Kodi Nikorima celebrates with Ken Maumalo. Photo credit: AAP

The talking point before the match was the inclusion of five-eighth Kodi Nikorima, who was making his club debut after being released by the Brisbane Broncos.

The 25-year-old had a relatively quiet match, but his leadership and experience was massive in the late stages of the game.

Kearney admitted he was expecting more from Nikorima, but predicts the New Zealand international will only get better the more he plays with the Warriors.

"I thought Kodi was good," Kearney said. "For a part of the second half, he could have got into the game a bit more.

"But he's getting used to things, it was a bit tense and tight midway through that second half, but I'm sure he'll get better with the group.

"I thought there were some really courageous performances out there. Karl Lawton did some wonderful stuff for us, Ligi Sao came on and did some great stuff for us too.

"So the guys really dug in in the second half, and I was really pleased and proud of them that we got a result."

The win could be a massive confidence-booster for the Warriors, who face the struggling Panthers in Penrith next Friday in their next match,

"We've been pretty close over the last month, so when you talk about turning points, the reality of this competition is that you've got to turn up again next week," Kearney added.

"There are no gifts in this competition, you've got to work really hard for anything."

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