NRL 2020: NZ Warriors coach Stephen Kearney proud of players after uplifting win over Dragons

NZ Warriors coach Stephen Kearney couldn't hide the smile off his face after his side secured their first win of the NRL season with a 18-0 triumph over the St George Illawarra Dragons at Central Coast Stadium on Saturday.

In their first match as part of the revamped NRL season, the Warriors shocked the rugby league community with a special performance that showed the sacrifices they're making are well worth it. 

Players have already been away from their families for a month and it remains unclear when they'll see them again. 

Before the season was suspended the Warriors looked dreadful, but during the lockdown the coaching staff rejigged their game plan - and it paid off as they completed a startling 44 consecutive sets from the start of the game until the 75th minute, finishing with a completion rate of 46/48. 

Given the tough circumstances, and all the injuries the Warriors have, Kearney felt this was one of the best wins of his NRL coaching career. 

"I was pretty pleased for the boys. I was really proud of the way they've gone about the last couple of months and endured a great deal.

"It didn't stop today, Peta [Hiku] come off after half-an-hour, we had to put Karl [Lawton] out in the centres.

"But with the way the boys have responded over the last couple of months has been that they've just got on with the job.

"That's what I was most pleased about, they worked really hard prior to the game today, worked really hard during the game and got some reward for it."

The Warriors were outsiders heading into the match, but they stood up and held the Dragons scoreless, the first time they've held a team to zero since 2014. 

Missing key forwards like Leeson Ah Mau and Jazz Tevaga, the young pack stood up with rookies Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Eliesa Katoa scoring maiden NRL tries.

Halfback Kodi Nikorima arguably had his best game in a Warriors jersey, scoring the team's only try in the second half. 

Kod Nikorima.
Kodi Nikorima. Photo credit: Photosport

Kearney was pleased they could produce a performance that would make players' families and fans proud. 

"It means a great deal. Not only to the group, but the families back home and we've got a footy club that's still operating.

"All of our footy staff back home, our administration, all of our fans, I know there would have been a lot of them watching and it's really pleasing to be able to put on a performance that they can be proud of."

A rib injury that forced Hiku out of the game in the first half was the only sour note for Kearney's side, with the centre now in doubt for Friday's game against the Penrith Panthers.

NRL 2020: NZ Warriors coach Stephen Kearney proud of players after uplifting win over Dragons