NRL 2022: NZ Warriors throw away halftime lead against St George Illawarra Dragons, crash to third straight loss

NZ Warriors have thrown away a two-point halftime lead, and slipped to a 24-18 loss to St George Illawarra Dragons for their third consecutive NRL defeat.

Leading 14-12 at the break, the Warriors scored just a solitary try in the second half, but conceded two in response.

All up though, goalkicking from young fullback Reece Walsh proved to be the difference between the two sides. Both the Warriors and Dragons scored four tries each, however Walsh could only manage one conversion, while opposition kicker Zac Lomax landed three.

St George Illawarra Dragons celebrate a try.
St George Illawarra Dragons celebrate a try. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

Defeat sees the Warriors slip to 12th on the NRL ladder, surrendering 11th place to the Dragons, and sit two points outside the top eight, albeit having played one game more than the likes of South Sydney Rabbitohs and Canberra Raiders.

In a horrible start for the Warriors, star halfback Shaun Johnson spilled the ball from the kick-off, giving the Dragons the field position to open the scoring with their first use of the ball.

Despite the early setback, the Warriors responded in style. A Johnson kick towards the Dragons' in-goal was batted back by Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, and setting up centre Viliami Vailea to score on the right.

And midway through the first half, the Warriors took the lead, as Johnson atoned for his early mistake, running at the line himself to score his first try since returning to the Kiwi club earlier this year.

The try took Johnson into outright third on the Warriors' all-time try scoring list, behind only Manu Vatuvei and Stacey Jones in first and second respectively.

Shaun Johnson congratulates Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Shaun Johnson congratulates Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

But in a see-saw first half, the Dragons retook the lead, as a mistake in the Warriors' half gave St George a scrum 10m from the tryline.

Fullback Cody Ramsey was on hand to level scores for the Dragons, touching down on the Warriors' left edge, as Lomax's successful conversion put St George ahead 12-10.

The Warriors made sure they'd have the last laugh before the break though, as another Johnson kick to the right wing had the Dragons in trouble.

For the second time, Watene-Zelezniak batted the ball back towards Vailea against the challenge of Dragons opposite Mathew Feagai - allowing the young centre to score his first try double in Warriors colours for a 14-12 halftime lead.

The Warriors came out firing after the break as well, as a team effort on the right edge sent Watene-Zelezniak over for a try of his own, and extending the score to 18-12 in the Kiwi side's favour.

From there, though, it was one way traffic, as the Warriors didn't score another point for the final 37 minutes.

Making his first grade debut, interchange forward Michael Molo scored from close range to bring the Dragons to level the scores, before Lomax had a double when he went over on the Warriors' left to give St George the lead again.

Lomax's only miss with the boot kept the Warriors in the contest at 22-18, but the Kiwi side couldn't find a reply.

A late penalty saw Reece Walsh lucky to avoid a sin-binning for a professional foul, but the resulting two points gave the Dragons breathing room, and left the Warriors needing a converted try to at the very least send the game to Golden Point.

And despite a frantic final play, the Warriors' second half ended in disappointment, and condemned them to another defeat that will leave coach Nathan Brown with questions to answer.

To make matters worse for the Warriors, influential front rower Addin Fonua-Blake could be in line for time on the sidelines, after missing the final stages of the defeat with an apparent foot injury.

The Warriors can look to break their losing run next Saturday, when they face the 15-placed Newcastle Knights at Redcliffe's Moreton Daily Stadium.

NZ Warriors 18 (Vailea 2, Johnson, Watene-Zelezniak tries; Walsh conversion)

St George Illawarra Dragons 24 (Lomax 2, Ramsey, Michael Molo tries; Lomax 3 conversions; Lomax penalty)