Joe Root’s tourists, in this case debutant Tom Curran, arguably contributed to their own problems with an overstep which granted Warner (103) a moment of outrageous fortune on 99 when he was reprieved after being caught at mid-on.
But they had done much to stifle the free-scoring opener, and then did not fade away as they might after Curran’s no-ball in front of a partisan Boxing Day crowd of 88,000 plus at the MCG - James Anderson bagging the left-hander as his 100th Ashes victim in a total of 244 for three which included the staple half-century from Smith (65no).
There were jarring contrasts between the first two sessions, as well as Warner’s innings and those of his team-mates.
England conceded 102 for none in 28 overs by lunch - 83 to Warner - yet took two for 43 in a further 26 before tea.
Warner reached his century from 130 balls, having hit 13 fours and a straight six in the over before lunch to bring up the team hundred.
There were no such riches for others, Cameron Bancroft enduring an unequal struggle at times for his laboured but laudable 26 from 95 deliveries in an opening stand of 122 and Usman Khawaja creeping into double-figures from 57 balls.
England were engaged in a limitation exercise against Warner from the moment Smith won his first toss of the series on a glorious morning.
There was a deep point and an equal and opposite man out in the leg-side, some 170 yards away, but Warner responded by punching boundaries down the ground instead.
He was past his 50 by the time Bancroft mastered single-digits.
But England were especially disciplined after lunch, and it seemed Curran had landed a famous first Test scalp when Warner - becalmed either side of his century by seven-two off-side fields to seamers operating round the wicket - mistimed a shovelled pull to mid-on.
Curran’s celebrations turned to dismay when third umpire Joel Wilson delivered his no-ball verdict - and after the returning Warner clipped the next delivery off his hip to reach three-figures, exchanges between him, bowler and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow looked spicy.
England stuck to their task nonetheless and with Bancroft already gone lbw on the back foot to Chris Woakes, it was Anderson who had Warner caught-behind with some skilful movement off the pitch.
Stuart Broad had gone 69 overs and conceded 219 runs between wickets, stretching back to the second Test in Adelaide, when he finally ended Khawaja’s tortured stay - caught-behind pushing forward.
He was close to doubling up immediately when Shaun Marsh was hit in front but given not out lbw and escaped a golden duck after England’s review resulted only in an umpire’s call verdict.
Smith steered the evening session comfortably back Australia’s way, putting himself ahead in the race to be this year’s leading Test runscorer as he continued his invincibility of late at this venue with a 98-ball 50.
But in the context of England’s failed campaign so far, despite an unbroken stand of 84 alongside Marsh, this was still a plausible start to their attempt at avoiding a 5-0 whitewash.
:: Australia wore black armbands after the death of their wicketkeeper Tim Paine’s father-in-law on Christmas Eve.