NRL: Vodafone Warriors 18, Manly 16

Few weeks have provided two such momentous performances for the Vodafone Warriors as they backed up Monday nights demolition of Brisbane with a gritty 18-16 victory over Manly in a contest of NRL finals intensity at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday.


The two contrasting displays had the net effect of giving the Vodafone Warriors the satisfaction of winning three matches on end for the first time since July 2011 when they gathered momentum in a campaign which would take them all the way to the grand final.


With the six competition points they have improved to 10 points overall and edged up to 13th spot on the ladder with a five wins-eight losses record. The result also further underlined the impressive manner in which the Vodafone Warriors have rebounded from their humiliating defeat by Penrith on May 18.


Since that night they have beaten Newcastle 28-12, Brisbane 56-18 and now the Sea Eagles 18-16, amassing 102 points and conceding only 46; more significantly, the Vodafone Warriors have restricted their last three opponents to 18 points or less, a feat they managed only once in their first 10 matches when beating the North Queensland Cowboys 20-18 in April.


Of the five wins so far the success and the nature of the performance against Manly has unquestionably meant the most to the players and coaching staff as well as the clubs members and supporters.


Monday nights freewheeling display rated highly for the quality of the attack but the contest against Manly was a battle, an absolute test of the Vodafone Warriors mettle in the face of the one of the NRLs most challenging opponents.


Going into this encounter, the Vodafone Warriors had won just two of the last 13 matches against Manly and had lost the last seven on end. The wins were both at Brookvale Oval (2005 and 2009) with the most recent success in Auckland as long ago as 2007 when current players Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei and Sam Rapira were in a home side which had a 36-14 win over a Manly side featuring 2013 players Jamie Lyon and Anthony Watmough. The match was played in front of a crowd of 25,070 late in the Vodafone Warriors surge towards a top four spot and a home play-off in the finals.


On Sunday the crowd was a far more modest 11,174 but the outcome may prove to be defining as the 2013 season evolves.


If history was loaded against the Vodafone Warriors there was also the negative of being forced to cope without first-choice fullback Kevin Locke, ruled out of the side with a hip flexor complaint picked up in the final team run on Saturday.


Locke had been remarkable against Brisbane but it would soon become evident that the Vodafone Warriors werent about to be affected by his absence. Moving into his role was Glen Fiisiiahi who proved to be on the days outstanding players.


The contest came so close to providing a perfect opening with Manu Vatuvei yet again claiming what he thought was the first try of the match only to have it ruled out by the officials.


From then, though, the Vodafone Warriors were found to be at fault time and time again by referees Ben Cummins and Brett Suttor, the same pair in charge in Mondays game at Suncorp Stadium. A flood of early penalties favoured Manly 6-1 at one point and with such an edge it was inevitable the Sea Eagles would prosper. Forced to defend so many repeat sets, the Vodafone Warriors were ultimately unable to prevent tries to New Zealanders Justin Horo son of former Vodafone Warrior Mark Horo and 2012 Vodafone Junior Warriors fullback Peta Hiku, who was appearing in only his fifth NRL match replacing the injured Brett Stewart.


If a 12-0 lead for Manly after 20 minutes suggested to those of more fragile faith that the omens were not healthy, these Vodafone Warriors have proved theyre made of much sterner stuff.


They stemmed the bleeding, began to earn a decent supply of penalties and possession and all too soon left an imprint on the contest.


Five minutes after Hikus try, the impressive Elijah Taylor made the first statement for the Vodafone Warriors with a try oozing sheer power. He launched himself at the Manly line, driving through James Hasson and Horo to plant the ball beside the upright.


In the 33rd minute, Feleti Mateo served up a superb ball to Fisiiahi on his left, the fullback making it three tries in six days after his double against Brisbane. With Shaun Johnsons conversion it was 12-12 and stayed that way not only until the halftime break but well beyond it.


Indeed the second half was to become an enthralling arm wrestle. For 28 minutes neither side yielded until finally 12 minutes from time centre Konrad Hurrell came up with what could only be called a Hurrell special. With Mannering flicking the ball on to his right, Hurrell had to stoop to secure the ball and then lined up the task in front of him from close range. On an angled run he flung off or ran through five defenders to score what was also his third try in six days.

Johnson converted and the Vodafone Warriors hit the front for the first time 18-12.


There was still 11 minutes left, though, and it was inevitable Manlys qualities would come to the fore.


They went close only for the video referee to find David Williams hadnt grounded a Hiku grubber in attempting to score.


Soon enough the Sea Eagles did strike, though, centre Steve Matai irresistible on a surge down the left edge when three or four defenders couldnt stop him. It was all down to Jamie Lyon to level it up at 18-18 but his attempted conversion was poor leaving the Vodafone Warriors two points clear with five minutes to go.


If nerves were jangling around the stadium and elsewhere, the Vodafone Warriors held theirs out in the centre, staying composed to see out the final minutes. Mannering had a try disallowed in the final seconds and so a famous win was secured; in the context of this season it was utterly priceless.


Fisiiahi was excellent, making 148 metres from 20 runs while props Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman both topped 150 metres. Nathan Friend (47), Taylor (35) and Mannering (34) topped the tackling stats.


Manurewa Marlins junior Hiku was brilliant for Manly, topping 190 metres on a day when both fullbacks put on error-free displays. Sea Eagles hooker Matt Ballin made 53 tackles.


Those interested in trivia would note five of the six tries were scored by New Zealanders and the other was claimed by Tongan-born New Zealand resident Hurrell.


Taking on Manly marked the start of an exacting schedule of opponents for the Vodafone Warriors. Next Sunday night they face the Sydney Roosters, followed by the Broncos back in Auckland on June 30, South Sydney in Perth, Wests Tigers in Sydney and Melbourne at Mount Smart Stadium. The clubs two byes also fall in this period.


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Match details:


At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

Vodafone Warriors 18 (Elijah Taylor, Glen Fisiiahi, Konrad Hurrell tries; Shaun Johnson 3 conversions).

Manly Sea Eagles 16 (Justin Horo, Peta Hiku, Steve Matai tries; Jamie Lyon 2 conversions).

Halftime: 12-12.

Referees: Ben Cummins and Brett Suttor.

Crowd: 11,142.


Vodafone Warriors: Glen Fisiiahi; Ngani Laumape, Konrad Hurrell, Dane Nielsen, Manu Vatuvei; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Suaia Matagi; Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c); Elijah Taylor. Interchange: Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Dominique Peyroux.