An ordering off and a sin binning combined to put an end to the Auckland Vulcans hopes of a fifth straight win when they were beaten 20-18 by Wests Tigers in todays New South Wales Cup clash at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
Facing the seventh-placed Tigers, the sixth-ranked Vulcans were leading 18-10 with 15 minutes to play only for the complexion of the contest to change completely when interchange forward Agnatius Paasi was ordered off after a high tackle which resulted in the home sides Michael Bullock leaving the field on a stretcher.
From the penalty following Paasis dismissal the Tigers forced a goal-line drop out and then engineered a try for giant left winger Taqele Naiyaravoro. Eddie Paea couldnt convert but the undermanned Vulcans lead had been cut to 18-14 entering the last 10 minutes.
Over the next few minutes the Vulcans withstood the Tigers onslaught and even mounted some likely forays themselves but they simply couldnt hang on in the face of the disadvantage of playing a man short.
Inevitably their line was breached as second rower Asipeli Fine drove over despite the attention of a number of tiring defenders. Crucially, though, Paea couldnt convert from a handy angle leaving the sides locked up at 18-18 with three minutes to play.
Desperate defence was needed to shut down another Tigers raid but it was undone when second rower Sam Lousi was deemed to have committed a professional foul as he came back on-side. He was sin binned and all the pressure was on Paea as he lined up a penalty attempt; this time he was on target and the Tigers, who had been behind the entire match, had come back to win 20-18.
It was a bitter end to the Vulcans search for their fifth consecutive win which was only three minutes away from reality.
Playing with 12 men made that task challenging in the least over the final stanza but their assigment was all the more difficult because their most influential player was operating under duress. Vodafone Warriors utility Pita Godinet, running the team at halfback, had been struck down in the first half by a knee injury but, strapped up, he soldiered on. In fact he even snaffled a second half intercept 10 metres from his own line to remarkably scoot 90 metres for a try which gave the Vulcans an eight-point lead.
The Vulcans had looked the superior side in the first half, scoring early through a Charlie Gubb try off a Suaia Matagi short ball and adding their second right on halftime via a powerful dummy half run by Siliva Havili.
Wests Tigers made a telling strike early in the second half to cut the margin to 12-10 before Godinets effort. It seemed likely to carry the Vulcans home until they were undone by first Paasis dismissal and ultimately the penalty against Lousi.
The task next Sunday will be even more demanding for the Vulcans. While theyll be at home, their opposition will be the competitions top side Cronulla, still with a perfect record this season after a tight 18-16 win over Newtown today. The match will be the first of a tripleheader at Mount Smart Stadium before the Vodafone Warriors NYC and NRL clashes against Brisbane.
Todays result sees the Tigers moving into sixth spot on the ladder, the Vulcans going to seventh.
At Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney
Wests Tigers 20 (Eddy Pettybourne, Allan McGrath, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Asipeli Fine tries; Eddie Paea conversion, penalty).
Auckland Vulcans 18 (Charlie Gubb, Siliva Havili, Pita Godinet tries; Sio Siua Taukeiaho 2 conversions; Pita Godinet conversion).
Halftime: 12-4 Vulcans.
Referee: Liam Nicholls.
Vulcans: Steve Waetford; Bill Tupou, Jerome Ropati, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Tangi Ropati; Carlos Tuimavave, Pita Godinet; Charlie Gubb, Alehana Mara, Suaia Matagi; John Palavi, Sam Lousi; Sebastine Ikahihifo. Interchange: Siliva Havili, Daniel Palavi, Agnatius Paasi, Nathaniel Peteru.