The Warriors had the passion of a team with a point to prove, but the calm heads of Canterbury ultimately proved too much.
After a week from hell dominated by the departure of coach Matt Elliott and an undignified dispute between the NRL club’s owners, the Warriors players went a long way to restoring fans’ faith in their footballing ability at Eden Park.
But some crucial mistakes and the coolness of Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson to slot a vital penalty and a field goal secured a last minute 21-20 victory for Canterbury.
“We knew we were going to get them on the rebound, and you know they’re always tough here. They’re a good football team,” Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said.
The Warriors got to a 10-0 lead early after two offloads from Ben Matulino, moved to the second row for the game, resulted in tries to Sam Tomkins and Manu Vatuvei.
But Canterbury fought back, each time answering Warriors tries with tries of their own, and Hodkinson’s faultless goalkicking kept them in the game.
The home team had their chance to extend their 20-12 lead in the second half with a sustained period of pressure, but the Bulldogs held and a Tim Lafai try, followed by a sideline conversion from Hodkinson, brought them within two.
From there Hodkinson landed a disputed penalty awarded after Josh Reynolds lost the ball in a tackle, and after Thomas Leuluai missed a field goal, Hodkinson made no mistake with two minutes left.
“We certainly showed a bit of maturity and a bit of composure and waited for our opportunities,” Hasler said.
New Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said he was disappointed with the result but proud of the result, particularly after they were reduced to two bench players in the second half after injuries to Matulino and Sebastine Ikahihifo.
He said both he and the players had put the troubled week at the club behind them.
“You certainly don’t plan that sort of stuff,” he said.
“But I’m not focused on that anymore. I’m focused on what we need to win games and to improve as a club.”