NRL: Vodafone Warriors 22, Rabbitohs 24

A pulsating second half raid narrowly failed to deliver the Vodafone Warriors a second successive comeback win when they lost 22-24 to South Sydney in their fifth-round NRL thriller at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday.


It left the Vodafone Warriors reflecting on their fourth loss of the year so far but there was much for them to take out of this contest.


They again faced an early deficit this time dropping 12 points inside 16 minutes and they once more recovered the lost ground to take the lead, as they did against the Cowboys six days earlier.


This time, though, they werent able to defend the lead as the Rabbitohs found a way through by using a massive 120kg battering ram otherwise known as George Burgess to power through multiple bodies to score.


With Adam Reynolds converting from wide out, the visitors grabbed a 24-22 lead with 12 minutes to play, an advantage they protected to stretch their winning start to the season to five.


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There was no consolation to be found in the raw score-line for the Vodafone Warriors. A loss is always a loss no matter how its analysed.


This, though, was a high-quality spectacle, stunning in fact; one which had the crowd enthralled throughout. It underlined once more why the NRL is a superior sporting competition.


Yet, stripping it back and putting the result aside, the Vodafone Warriors contributed enormously to a truly sensational contest.


They showed positive endeavour from the outset only to have it cruelly countered by an intercept try by the ever-classy Nathan Merritt and another dazzling effort from Greg Inglis when he snaffled an errant Vodafone Warriors pass to bolt close to 90 metres to score. Even from an opposing viewpoint, Inglis in full stride like this is something to behold.


The Vodafone Warriors were wearing and weathering heavy-duty contact from the massive South Sydney pack. They not only absorbed it but, within minutes of Inglis scoring, so nearly came up with a response when Thomas Leuluais cross-field bomb to the left from wide on the right side all but produced a first NRL try for rookie centre Ngani Laumape.


Soon enough there was joy for the home side when a superbly-executed play saw Feleti Mateo and Shaun Johnson connect to put Ben Matulino across to reduce the margin to 6-12, Matulino powering over Inglis in the process.


Had justice prevailed that might well have been the score-line at halftime. Instead a strip in the tackle was missed, a knock-on ruled against the Vodafone Warriors and South Sydney laid on a try for centre Bryson Goodwin, the unerring Reynolds making it 18-6 at the break.


Elliott insisted his troops to ignore the scoreboard, telling them they were right in the contest. He wasnt wrong.


After getting into an arm wrestle in the opening phase of the second half, the Vodafone Warriors began to find their range, created ample pressure and very soon it was transformed into a huge momentum shift.


In the 53rd minute 19-year-old Laumape provided a magic moment when, eight metres out, he expertly picked up a wide dummy half pass from Pita Godinet and showed exceptional strength and skill to get the ball down as he drove through defenders Andrew Everingham, Dylan Farrell and Ben Teo.


Six minutes later the Vodafone Warriors attack was on song again inside the 20 as they went to their right with Mateo, Leuluai and Kevin Locke linking sweetly to give the bull-like Konrad Hurrell a shot at the South Sydney line, albeit with a wall of defenders to get through. No problem for him as Nathan Merritt, Goodwin, Inglis, Chris McQueen and Sam Burgess were all powerless to stop the rampant Tongan. This was also a try given the tick of approval under the re-engineered obstruction interpretation.


At 16-18 it was absolutely game on, the Vodafone Warriors palpably in the ascendancy.


They demonstrated as much in the 63rd minute by thundering into the lead on the back of a fantastic short-side strike from 70 metres out on just the second tackle. Godinet went to the right from dummy half, linking up with Hurrell who freed up Bill Tupou on the edge. Down the touchline he went 30 metres before finding Godinet backing up to race the last 30 metres for a wonderful try (and wearing a bit of a cheap shot from Inglis after hed touched down).


With Johnsons conversion it was dramatically 22-18 to the Vodafone Warriors after a quite breathtaking 10-minute assault. The home side was in position to go on with it and finish over the top of one of the competitions hottest sides of the season so far.


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There was still plenty of time to go, though 17 minutes in fact and five minutes after Godinets go-ahead effort the Bunnies had their only (and critical) points of the half. The rhino-like George Burgess had been denied earlier in the half by three little men in front of the posts but this time he was irresistible although his try needed the ultimate stamp of approval from the video referee.


Try as they might the Vodafone Warriors couldnt buy their way back in one more time, the Rabbitohs holding on for one of their few wins in Auckland.


The Vodafone Warriors, though, provided more than enough evidence to indicate theyll have a lot of success if they play this well regularly. Their attack has blossomed in the past fortnight and their defence has also developed immeasurably.


Most encouragingly theyve been producing their best work of the season so far with their ranks afflicted by an injury crisis. They had to go into yesterdays contest without Jacob Lillyman, Dane Nielsen and Ben Henry while Jerome Ropati wasnt yet match-ready for NRL duty, Nathan Friend was having only his second outing after a long recovery process from shoulder surgery and Manu Vatuvei and Russell Packer were coming back into the fray after lay-offs (Packer having his first run of the year).


If entertainment alone was the yardstick, Mount Smart Stadium witnessed a showstopper on Sunday but tough battles lie ahead.


A few hours later Canberra, the Vodafone Warriors next opponent on Saturday night, produced an identical score-line and a near replica storyline when taking on the in-form Sydney Roosters at Canberra Stadium.


Heading into the match, the Roosters hadnt conceded a try since Bill Tupous 75th-minute effort for the Vodafone Warriors at Eden Park on March 16. Having beaten Brisbane 8-0 and Parramatta 50-0, they led the Raiders 16-0 at halftime 74 unanswered points across more than 200 minutes.


Then the levee broke as the Roosters vaunted defence leaked two tries in five minutes. The visitors grabbed one back through Sonny Bill Williams special ability but the Raiders came home with a rush, hauling in a 12-22 deficit to win with two more converted tries.


It was a confidence-boosting victory for the Raiders as they now contemplate the Vodafone Warriors and former coach Matthew Elliott at a venue where the visiting side has had little success.


The Vodafone Warriors return to training on Tuesday after having a rest day on Monday.


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Match details:


At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland


Vodafone Warriors 22 (Ben Matulino, Ngani Laumape, Konrad Hurrell, Pita Godinet tries; Shaun Johnson 3 conversions).

South Sydney Rabbitohs 24 (Nathan Merritt, Greg Inglis, Bryson Goodwin, George Burgess tries; Adam Reynolds 4 conversions).

Halftime: 18-6 Rabbitohs.

Referees: Jared Maxwell and Dave Munro.

Crowd: 13,512.


Vodafone Warriors: Kevin Locke; Bill Tupou, Konrad Hurrell, Ngani Laumape, Manu Vatuvei; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Russell Packer; Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c); Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor, Pita Godinet, Sebastine Ikahihifo.