NRL: NZ Warriors power into final four with dominant win over Newcastle Knights

The Warriors are just a solitary win away from the NRL Grand Final, after downing Newcastle Knights 40-10 in their semi-final clash at Go Media Stadium in Auckland on Saturday.

Emboldened by a raucous sold-out crowd of 26,083, the Warriors burst out of the blocks with three tries in the opening 12 minutes to put the visitors firmly behind the eight ball, all of which bore the brilliant Shaun Johnson's fingerprints. Johnson was cleared to play an hour before kick-off after a week-long saga involving the torn calf that prevented him playing in their finals opener against minor premiers Penrith last weekend. 

The Knights managed to wrestle their way back into the contest for brief spells, but - operating at a new level of intensity - the Warriors were always ready with a reply.

The creaking floodgates eventually burst open, as the hosts drove the dagger into Newcastle hearts with four unanswered tries to put the result beyond doubt and end the Knights' 10-game streak and 2023 season in definitive fashion, running in seven tries to two.

The Warriors now advance to face Brisbane Broncos next Saturday with a chance to return to the Grand Final for the first time since 2011.

The win is the Warriors' first in a home finals contest since 2008, providing a fitting farewell to their faithful in their swansong on NZ soil for the season.

Coach Andrew Webster was even afforded the luxury of pulling Johnson from the field with six minutes to play, after another masterclass from the Dally M contender, providing precisely what the side had lacked against the Panthers - direction, a surefire kicking game, and an omini-present threat on attack.

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. Photo credit: Getty Images

Fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was immense, running for a jaw-dropping 297m to go with a try and an assist. Captain Tohu Harris was at his metronomic best with 140m and 30 tackles, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak worked tirelessly for 143m and – of course – a try.

On the other side of the ball, the Warriors were equally impressive, suffocating the Knights' attack and limiting linchpin Kalyn Ponga's influence all evening.

The hosts quickly gave the bubbling sold-out Mt Smart reason to explode, capitalising on a mistake by Greg Marzhew in the Knights' opening set.

On a right edge raid, Johnson stamped his mark instantly with a slick delayed second-man play to send Nicoll-Klokstad over inside three minutes.

A penalty from the ensuing restart put the Warriors immediately back on the offensive. After Wayde Egan was denied by the bunker, Johnson's ever-present threat came to the fore yet again, putting Addin Fonua-Blake over behind the posts.

Pompey's conversion put the hosts up 10-0 to sound alarm bells in the Novacastrian camp, after just eight minutes of play.

Two minutes later – after Marcelo Montoya had bundled Dominic Young into touch on just the third tackle – the situation rapidly worsened for the visitors.

His expert hands at the wheel, Johnson initiated another offensive that had the Knights defence flummoxed, and slick hands sent Montoya over in the right-hand corner. Pompey converted from the touchline to put the Warriors ahead 16-0. 

Finally, at the 15-minute mark, the Knights completed their first set of the match – a statistic which accurately reflected the hugely lopsided nature of the contest through the opening quarter.

As the Knights mounted their first genuine redzone attack, the Warriors were a dealt a blow with the loss of key forward Marata Niukore to injury, limping assisted off the pitch to bring Josh Curran into the match. Niukore later returned to the contest, quelling any fear of serious damage to his knee.

The tryline pressure eventually told, with Marzhew sliding in out wide to register the Knights' first points in the 25th minute.

Egan almost snuck over again on the back of another mistake. But the visitors found some rhythm towards the end of the half as the territory and possession statistics began to even out.

There was almost time for the Warriors to sneak in another before the sides, but Te Maire Martin's pass to an open Watene-Zelezniak was off the mark, sending the Warriors into the sheds with a 16-4 advantage.

The start of the second stanza saw a role reversal of kick-off, with Marcelo Montoya unable to reel in a bomb and gift the Knights a much-needed chance to strike first.

And they did exactly that, with Adam Clune darting and offloading in a tackle for Dylan Lucas to close the deficit to six points. But that was as good as it got for the Novacastrians.

The Warriors responded immediately to restore their 12-point lead, with Egan picking out a streaking Dylan Walker to power over under the crossbar – a play setup by a barnstorming run from skipper Tohu Harris.

Their momentum back on their side, the Warriors dictated terms through Johnson's educated boot to keep the heat on the Knights, pinning them in their own half for extended periods.

At the three-quarter mark, Rocco Berry latched on to a deft offload from Watene-Zeleniak and showed exceptional strength to wrestle the ball down over the chalk for his third try of the season.

Pompey slotted the sideline conversion to put the Warriors up 28-10 and dealing a telling blow to the Knights' morale, as the Warriors went up 28-10.

Johnson and Nicoll-Klokstad combined in trademark fashion to send Watene-Zelezniak over and extend the lead to an imposing 34-10. 

Bayley Sironen rubbed some final salt in Knights' wounds, darting over from dummy half to put an exclaimation mark on a memorable night at Mt Smart.

NZ Warriors 40 (Nicoll-Klokstad, Fonua-Blake, Montoya, Walker, Berry, Watene-Zelezniak, Sironen tries; Pompey 6 cons) Newcastle Knights 10 (Marzhew, Lucas tries, Ponga con).