Eight days after conceding 10 tries in plummeting to a club record 6-62 loss to Penrith they scored five tries and held Newcastle scoreless for the last 49 minutes to win the 11th-round NRL contest 28-12.
In the space of 80 minutes they had converted a 56-point defeat into a 16-point victory a 72-point turnaround to collect their second successive win at Mount Smart Stadium and their third in four matches at the ground so far this season; the only defeat has been a 22-24 loss to top of the table South Sydney.
The coaching staff and playing group were the first to collectively concede there were areas of the display which didnt meet their expectations but this match was purely about a change in attitude and digging in to produce the desired result. In that they succeeded more than admirably with a win which also ranked as one of the most critical in the clubs existence.
There have been numerous massive turnarounds through the years in this competition. Indeed one surrounded the Vodafone Warriors previous record loss to St George Illawarra in 2000. The Dragons had lost 4-50 to North Queensland the week before trouncing the Vodafone Warriors 54-0, a 100-point turnaround.
The Knights were familiar with the position the Vodafone Warriors were in. Two weeks ago they led Canberra 14-0 before losing 14-44 and then rebounding with a 44-8 victory over the Bulldogs last week.
If there were nerves for the Vodafone Warriors heading into Sundays Women in League battle with the Knights today, they were quickly settled as they came out of the blocks fast. In fact, they were quicker than they have been in any match so far and yet again it was winger Manu Vatuvei who was the man to score the first points.
Hed scored in the fifth minute against the Bulldogs in Wellington two weeks earlier. This time his reward came as early as the third minute courtesy of a nice offload by Russell Packer and quick hands to the left. A great Thomas Leuluai ball and a slick flick-on by Dane Nielsen gave Vatuvei a shot at the line and the chance to scatter a few defenders en route to his sixth try in his seventh game in 2013.
Johnsons attempted conversion from wide out hit an upright, which has happened to him a few times so far this season.
The lead was short-lived, left winger James McManus scoring with ease off a bomb and Kurt Gidley converting splendidly for a 6-4 advantage after 12 minutes.
Ten minutes later the home side hit the front again. Ben Matulino charged at the line, couldnt get the ball down and offloaded out the back door to the waiting Leuluai. The little playmaker had just one option launching himself over the top of a pile of bodies in front of him to get the ball down. With Johnsons conversion, the Vodafone Warriors were 10-6 in front.
Playing the game at tempo with lots of ball movement and keen support play, they engineered some other openings without reward but then relaxed by gifting the Knights an opportunity. They aimed their attack at the left again, creating a comfortable passage for McManus to score his second try. Gidley was again superb from an acute angle to make the score 12-10 after 31 minutes.
It would be the last time the Knights would score on a day when the Vodafone Warriors defence was at its best, keeping an opponent scoreless in the second half for the first time this year.
Before reaching that outcome, there were some hurdles, the most notable the loss of starting centre Carlos Tuimavave with a neck injury at halftime. It not only cost an interchange but necessitated a major shuffle in resources with captain Simon Mannering moving into the centres and Sebastine Ikahihifo into the back row. The knock-on effect was that all three starting back rowers Mannering, Feleti Mateo and Elijah Taylor played the full 80 minutes (the first time Mateo and Taylor have done so this year).
For the first 10 minutes, the second half was typical arm wrestle fare. Newcastle suffered twin setbacks with key weapons Akuila Uate (ribs) and Darius Boyd (calf/ankle) both forced off in the space of 10 minutes.
It coincided with a phase of the game when the Vodafone Warriors made a confidence-boosting double strike.
First Johnson pumped up a towering, swirling bomb in the 52nd minute, Locke surging through at speed to take it on the full and shift to Mannering on his right for a wonderful try (Mannerings 40th but first of the season).
From the restart the Vodafone Warriors stormed back downfield, put the heat on and won a penalty. They turned down the shot at goal, went for the try and the gamble proved well-merited, Sam Rapira over under the bar off Nathan Friends flat ball out of dummy half. With Johnson converting both tries, the Vodafone Warriors were out to a 22-12 lead but with plenty of time left.
As the contest entered the nervous final 15 minutes, the margin remained 10 points. There was some anxiety when McManus came close to a third try but this time the embattled Vodafone Warriors were brave and generally composed to the end.
The defining moment came in the 73rd minute. More pressure was created and maintained until Johnsons sweetly delayed short ball put Taylor across.
No one was complaining about the smiles on the dials as the Vodafone Warriors went around the ground to acknowledge the members and fans who had underlined their support for the club by turning up at such a testing time.
Later at the official post-match function at SKYCITY, Mateo was named the players player of the day (SKYCITY players player of the day prize packs were handed out to the winners from the last nine matches).
Mateo made an exceptional contribution carrying the ball an astonishing 26 times, making 228 metres and coming up with six tackle breaks, five off loads, a line break and 28 tackles.
Vatuvei has been in a rich vein of form since returning from his sternum injury. Today he ran the ball 16 times, made 154 metres and produced seven tackle breaks, an offload, a line break and his 108th career try in his 159th appearance.
Props Sam Rapira (131), Ben Matulino (136) and Jacob Lillyman (126) topped 100 metres as did Locke (110) and Glen Fisiiahi (105).
The defensive heroes were Natahn Friend with 51 tackles, Taylor (47), Mannering (29), Mateo (28) and Rapira (25).
But aside from the win the key numbers would have been the teams defensive stats showing a total of just 19 tackles missed and 17 ineffective tackle (Newcastle had 31 and 29). Therein lay the story of the contest.
While it was Women in League day at Mount Smart Stadium, the memory of former Vodafone Warriors travel manager Terry Baker also hung over the day. He died last Sunday, the whole team and coaching staff attending his funeral on Thursday. There was a pre-match tribute to him including a moment's silence while the players wore black armbands in his memory.
The Vodafone Warriors now have an eight-day break before taking on Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Monday week (June 3).
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 28 (Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Simon Mannering, Sam Rapira, Elijah Taylor tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions).
Newcastle Knights 12 (James McManus 2 tries; Kurt Gidley 2 conversions).
Halftime: 12-10 Knights.
Referees: Gerrard Sutton and Luke Phillips.
Vodafone Warriors: Kevin Locke; Glen Fisiiahi, Carlos Tuimavave, Dane Nielsen, Manu Vatuvei; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Russell Packer; Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c); Elijah Taylor. Interchange: Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Pita Godinet, Sebastine Ikahihifo.