Warriors hope they provided 'a bit of happiness' after emotional win over Bulldogs
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/111340193/-

2019-03-16 13:04:14

At the end of the day, it was only a game of rugby league.

Coming little more than 24 hours after one of the most horrific events in New Zealand's history, no one needed reminding of that, least of all Stephen Kearney and his players.

The Warriors coach, like most of New Zealand, sat glued to the television on Saturday morning, taking in updates of the Christchurch terrorist attacks that left 49 people dead and the rest of the country in despair.

But once the decision was made for the Warriors' NRL season-opener against the Bulldogs to go ahead at Mt Smart Stadium, the team was determined to provide 80 minutes of distraction with a performance to be proud of.

Again, it has to be put into perspective; sporting contests can seem trivial in times like these. But for those who watched the Auckland club roll to a dominant 40-6 victory, including the 18,795 people at the ground, you could say it was a job well done.

"The magnitude of it all, I don't know if it's quite hit home to everyone," Kearney said.

"As footballers we get an opportunity to go out and see people and potentially have them clapping, smiling and cheering when we finish. That's 80 minutes of a bit of happiness after what's been a pretty horrific day or so.

"You've got to do your job first but there was a fair bit that went into the energy of executing that."

Kearney said the players were clearly affected by what had transpired on Friday, particularly Christchurch-born Jazz Tevaga.

On the eve of the match, the team held a dinner to get things "off their chest" with winger David Fusitu'a leading a prayer. They again discussed the occasion during a game-day meeting.

The Warriors wore black armbands and a minute's silence was observed by both teams after the national anthem was played.

Additional security measures were put in place at Mt Smart, while chief executive Cameron George called for a show of public unity as the Warriors offered free entry in the hours before kick-off.

Kearney said it was about showing what the club stood for.

"That's exactly what it was. We're a footy club full of all types of people - Tongans, Samoans, Australians, everything," the coach added.

"I think it was really important we got on with things but we did it in a manner where people felt safe in our whare. I'm just pleased we were able to put on a performance that was worthy of that."

As for the game, Kearney could not have asked for anything more from his players.

They out-muscled the Bulldogs for much of the contest, while the backs, led by halfback Blake Green, produced a clinical display in the seven-try rout.

Green's new halves partner, Adam Keighran, made an encouraging start to his first grade career, providing the perfect foil to the senior playmaker and scoring on debut.

But he was just one of many who stood out as Solomone Kata bagged a double, Nathaniel Roache filled in admirably for hooker Issac Luke and skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck led from the front, as usual.

"I've been saying all along that all I expect of him is to fulfil his role in the team," Kearney said of Keighran. "He's got some pretty handy people around that can help him do that.

"He's got some improvement in him, which we all have. But I thought it was a good start. He's pretty happy. First NRL game and to have a win like that - I wish they were all like that."

The Warriors' next game is against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney on Sunday.

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