Vodafone Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei scoring the second of his two tries against the Canberra Raiders on Saturday night. Photo: Photosport.


The drought continues for the Vodafone Warriors after Canberra winger Edrick Lee scored a late try to steal his side a 20-16 win in Saturday nights sixth-round NRL match at Canberra Stadium.


After leading 10-4 at halftime, the Vodafone Warriors scored their third try straight after the break to move into a 16-4 lead.


From then on, though, they were generally reduced to coming off their own line as they handed the Raiders ample opportunities. Time after time the Vodafone Warriors would repel Canberras raids only to surrender possession and invite the home side back down field.


Finally in the 77th minute the Vodafone Warriors sheer will and defensive grit was broken down when Lee leapt spectacularly to haul in a Terry Campese bomb for the match-winning try.


It meant the Vodafone Warriors were on the end of their third narrow defeat of the season after previously losing 14-16 to the Sydney Roosters and, just last Sunday, 22-24 to South Sydney.


For the best part of 50 minutes this was one of the clubs best opportunities to end an empty run in Canberra. Of 10 matches at Canberra Stadium the Vodafone Warriors had won just once way back in 1997.


Initially they found themselves in familiar but unwanted territory tonight.

Two early penalties awarded against them handed Canberra possession and field position, ultimately leading to a ninth-minute try off a well-placed kick to right winger Sandor Earl.


Both sides suffered injury setbacks in the opening minutes, Canberra losing captain David Shillington and the Vodafone Warriors stripped of experienced centre Dane Nielsen when he had to be helped off after being the victim of an awkward tackle, resulting in Jack Wighton being put on report.


Later the Raiders also had Earl sidelined while Vodafone Warriors veteran Manu Vatuvei wasnt able to run freely at any stage of the evening.


While they went 0-4 down, the Vodafone Warriors quickly came back at the Raiders, again showing confidence with the ball as they sought to build on their improved displays against the Cowboys and the Rabbitohs.


Openings were spotted and regularly found down Canberras right edge via short-side plays. Only four minutes after Earls try, the Vodafone Warriors set up nicely again to give Vatuvei a simple run in for his 103rd career try; and 11 minutes later it was more of the same as he was again given an overlap for try No 104.


Without getting too carried away, there was much to like about the way the Vodafone Warriors were going about their business, consistently pushing kicks deep towards the corners or into touch. The kick-chase was good, too.


With those two Vatuvei tries and one superb Johnson conversion (his other one hit the upright) the Vodafone Warriors were in position to control the tempo. And when Ben Henry scored off a bomb tapped back by Vatuvei in the 44th minute the stars were very much in alignment.


As has happened in previous night games in Canberra, the evening dew seemed to become a factor as the ball was put down frequently, although there was some help from foreign hands on occasions which went undetected by the officials.


The second half statistics painted a vivid picture. Canberra completed 16 of 21 sets (76 per cent), made 883 metres from 100 runs, four line breaks and was required to make only 101 tackles, missing just two according to the provisional numbers. Compare those stats with these for the Vodafone Warriors just 14 sets with only nine completed (64 per cent), 378 metres gained from just 51 runs, no line breaks, 184 tackles made and 11 missed. And the penalty count also favoured Canberra 4-1.


It was a wonder the Vodafone Warriors stayed in front for as long as they did in the face of such statistical evidence.


Of course it meant a heavy nights work on defence for quite a few players. Hooker Nathan Friend was down for a game-high 56 tackles on the provisional statistics while Todd Lowrie was credited with 43, Simon Mannering 38 and Henry 25.


Now the Vodafone Warriors face breathing space before their next outing, the traditional Anzac Day meeting with arch rival Melbourne at AMII Park.


Match details:


At Canberra Stadium, Canberra

Canberra Raiders 20 (Edrick Lee 2, Sandor Earl, Sam Williams tries; Jarrod Croker 2 conversions).

Vodafone Warriors 16 (Manu Vatuvei 2, Ben Henry tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions).

Halftime: 10-4 Vodafone Warriors.

Referees: Adam Devcich and Chris James.


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