NRL: Vodafone Warriors 25, Titans 24

The Vodafone Warriors found themselves in their fifth tight finish in consecutive games but this time they were able to hold off a fast-finishing Gold Coast side to take out today's eighth-round NRL clash 25-24 at Mount Smart Stadium.


With 15 minutes to play, the Vodafone Warriors had a seemingly comfortable 24-6 lead only to see it whittled down to just six points in the space of six minutes.


It left the Vodafone Warriors in the familiar predicament of holding a narrow lead heading into the final minutes. They'd been in that position in each of their previous four matches against North Queensland, South Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne only to finish up with narrow defeats in the last three contests.


This time the scoreboard read 24-18 with nine minutes to play, setting up an anxious final stanza as the Titans kept coming downfield to pile on pressure. Each time, though, the Vodafone Warriors turned them away, finally setting up a field goal opportunity for Shaun Johnson with less than two minutes left. He obliged to secure a critical seven-point lead.


The Titans sneaked a try in the final seconds but by then they also knew they couldn't win the match, enabling the Vodafone Warriors to celebrate their second win this season to move up to 14th place on the table.


Manu Vatuvei, returning from injury for only his second game of the year at Mount Smart Stadium, had a telling influence throughout and especially in the opening 15 minutes.


It was the first time Vatuvei had played outside his long-time centre partner Jerome Ropati since early April last year, their understanding immediately in evidence as they combined down the left edge. Slick ball work from Thomas Leuluai, Kevin Locke and finally Ropati enabled Vatuvei to power across in the corner for his third try of the season. And minutes later he soared expertly to tap a perfectly-placed Leuluai bomb straight into Feleti Mateo's hands for the second try of the day (and Mateos first of the season).


While Gold Coast countered with a Jamal Idris try, the Vodafone Warriors restored their 10-point advantage almost immediately. Captain Simon Mannering squeezed out a great off load, Locke backed up linking with centre Ben Henry who offloaded to put Bill Tupou in, the winger running around cleverly to narrow the angle for Johnson.


Ahead 16-6 at the break, the Vodafone Warriors went 14 points clear early in the second half when Johnson contested a Leuluai bomb, popping the ball up with one hand and then gathering it to score a try scrutinised by the video referee before being awarded.


Johnson couldnt convert but the 20-6 scoreline soon stretched to 24-6 when hooker Pita Godinets smart play put the impressive Henry across. Again Johnson was unable to convert, leaving the Vodafone Warriors three converted tries clear.


Ultimately it proved enough although not before the heart flutters caused by Gold Coasts late recovery.


The winning performance was founded on improved defence, the statistics showing just 17 missed tackles, the Titans missing 25. Against that the errors read 14 to the Vodafone Warriors and only seven to the Titans with the completion rates 27 from 39 (69 per cent) for the home side and 31 from 36 (86 per cent) for the visitors.


On an individual level, Vatuvei carried the ball 14 times for 128 metres, the most metres for the Vodafone Warriors while his number of runs was matched by only Mannering and Mateo. Nathan Friend was the top defender for the side with 34 tackles including just one miss while Mannering (31), Todd Lowrie (28), Henry (26), Elijah Taylor (26) and Ben Matulino (23) had no misses.


While the win alone plus a number of aspects were huge positives to come out of the match, there were disquieting features in the shape of two more injuries which have left Locke and Sam Rapira in doubt for The Capital Clash against Canterbury Bankstown at Westpac Stadium in Wellington next Saturday (7.35pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone).


Rapira was used for just 24 minutes in his opening stint. On his very last carry before being interchanged, he reeled out of the collision holding his hand and wasnt able to return to the field later in the contest.


Locke collapsed mysteriously in the 66th minute, the match held up for several minutes while he lay face down on the turf. Eventually he was helped off with a back injury and will undergo further assessment in the coming days to establish the severity of the complaint.


Elliott had the rare luxury of going into the Gold Coast match with a line-up unchanged from the one named earlier in the week but he now faces the likelihood of needing to make changes for the trip to Wellington.


Elliott and his coaching staff travel to the Capital on Thursday where they will run a clinic for local coaches that evening. The playing squad for the match will arrive in Wellington on Friday morning and head straight to Westpac Stadium for their final training run.


Theyll face a Bulldogs side fortified after back-to-back wins. After losing five of the first six matches of the season including a 0-38 reverse against the Roosters the Bulldogs have beaten Cronulla 24-8 and Wests Tigers 40-4. Theyll come to Wellington without the suspended Krisnan Inu but they have welcomed back two vital cogs in their armoury in props Sam Kasiano and James Graham, who both returned against the Tigers on Friday night.


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Match details:


At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

Vodafone Warriors 25 (Manu Vatuvei, Feleti Mateo, Bill Tupou, Shaun Johnson, Ben Henry tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions, field goal).

Gold Coast Titans 24 (Jamal Idris 2, William Zillman, Anthony Don tries; Aidan Sezer 4 conversions).

Halftime: 16-6 Vodafione Warriors.

Referees: Jason Robinson and Gavin Reynolds.

Crowd: 9465.


Vodafone Warriors: Kevin Locke; Bill Tupou, Ben Henry, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Russell Packer; Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c); Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Elijah Taylor, Pita Godinet.