Johnson stars as Warriors surge into preliminary final

Aaron Gillions/AAP PHOTOS

The Warriors are 80 minutes away from a fairytale NRL grand final berth after superstar halfback Shaun Johnson inspired a 40-10 semi-final thrashing of Newcastle on his return from a calf injury.

Johnson orchestrated the fast start that catapulted the Warriors to their most memorable win of a resurgent season, shrugging off a week of uncertainty around his fitness.

"He came super close to not playing," coach Andrew Webster said of Johnson.

"We literally didn't know until yesterday."

The Warriors dominated all facets of the game in their first home final since 2008 and were only briefly challenged by the Knights either side of halftime at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday.

Now, a preliminary final against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium is all that stands between the Warriors and the third grand final appearance of their 29-year history.

"It's special," Webster said of the semi-final win.

"Winning any finals game is special. Winning in your backyard with an atmosphere like that is huge. I think it's even better the way we did it.

"We played our style."

The win is the latest twist in the Warriors' resurrection after they finished second-last on the ladder in 2022 but morphed into a premiership contender on their full-time return to New Zealand this year.

The latest chapter in the Warriors' fairytale brought the Knights' own underdog story to a shattering conclusion.

Over is the 10-game winning streak that catapulted Newcastle from the bottom four to the semi-finals, and the team that entered the play-offs as the NRL's hot-shots returns to Australia empty-handed.

"I'm pretty proud of what the playing group have been able to do, to come from 14th and then give ourselves a chance," said Knights coach Adam O'Brien.

"Being content with this is not good enough. When we come back from pre-season, we want to build on what we have done the last few months."

Johnson came into the week under an injury cloud after tearing his calf late last month and missing the qualifying loss to Penrith, where the Warriors struggled without him.

But the Dally M Medal favourite took only minutes to assert his influence on the contest.

"He gave everyone else confidence. Our attack early was a big part of what he was doing," Webster said.

An error from Greg Marzhew coming out of trouble in the opening minute put the Warriors in position for as impressive a start to an NRL game as any team has made this year.

The Knights were still reconfiguring when fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, one of the Warriors' best with 297-run metres, scythed through their left edge on the back of some quick hands.

Johnson threw the pass that put Addin Fonua-Blake over for a try and he straightened the attack ahead of Marcelo Montoya's try. The Warriors were up 16-0 before the Knights had completed a set.

One of the NRL's most potent attacking sides, Newcastle briefly threatened to make a game of it when they scored either side of half-time on the back of some much-needed field position.

But the Warriors would not be chased down, their middle forward unit snapping back to form after an off night against the Panthers.

Captain Tohu Harris led the way with 228 metres gained.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak bagged two second-half tries to equal Francis Meli and David Fusitu'a's club record of 25 in a season and the Warriors stormed to a huge win.