Shaun Johnsons virtuoso display provided the impetus for the Vodafone Warriors to eke out a crucial 24-14 win over Wests Tigers in Friday nights 19th-round NRL encounter at Leichhardt Oval in suburban Sydney. Photo: Photosport


Rebounding from a 6-14 halftime margin, the Vodafone Warriors scored 18 unanswered points in the second half to snare their second win in six visits to Leichhardt.


More significantly, though, it ensured they stayed in contention for a finals spot with seven games to play.


They have an eight wins-nine losses record, sitting on 20 points with four other teams ranked from seventh to 11th for now at least. The Vodafone Warriors have won six of their last seven matches and, with their two byes, have collected 16 of a possible 18 points in the past nine weeks.


There wasnt always too much for head coach Matthew Elliott, his coaching staff and the players to be pleased with in the first but the much-improved second half performance carried the Vodafone Warriors to an important result.


They head home today (Saturday) to prepare for a stern examination from 2012 premiers the Melbourne Storm, who will come to Auckland off a bye but doubtless still seething after their last outing. Missing their Origin players, they were trounced 39-0 by Canterbury-Bankstown.


Next Sundays match-up is now set to be the biggest game of the season at Mount Smart Stadium so far. The Michael Moore Trophy will again be at stake as it always is when the two clubs meet but it will also serve as a testimonial match for veteran winger Manu Vatuvei as the Vodafone Warriors celebrate his 10th season in the NRL.


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For the moment at least, though, the focus is on reflecting on a win at a venue which is challenging for every club taking on the Tigers there. Very few come away with success which makes this victory special, more so because it was achieved on a night when Benji Marshall was so much the centre of attention after a week of high drama surrounding his decision to leave his only NRL club at the end of the season.


If the locals were hoping for Marshall to light up they ultimately found themselves drawn to the almighty Johnson instead.


His man of the match effort provided gold for his side time and again as he scored two of the four tries, made another and kicked all four conversions. Indeed he has now kicked 21 consecutive attempts.


It took time before he was able to put on his show, though, as the Tigers played at tempo and asked more questions. So much so they struck on opposite edges to grab to tries for an 8-0 lead after just 13 minutes.


It wasnt until eight minutes from halftime that the Vodafone Warriors finally registered points with Johnson a key influence in a wonderful set play. Thomas Leuluai linked with Ben Matulino, who popped the ball out the back to Johnson looping around. With a deft pass he sent prop Suaia Matagi spearing through a huge hole, Matagi drawing the cover slickly and feeding the supporting Johnson on the inside for a superb try (one which took him past 100 points for the season).

Too soon after biting back into the contest, the Vodafone Warriors handed the advantage back. With the last act of the half, Simona made an outside break, kicked ahead and won the race to score ahead of the chasing Kevin Locke. It left the Tigers with a 14-6 lead.


Within a minute of the second half starting the margin had been whittled down to two points as the Vodafone Warriors began the spell oozing intent and intensity aplenty.


In the very first set they worked downfield full of purpose up the middle. Leuluais last tackle kick fell into space, captain Simon Mannering surged through to collect the bouncing ball and fed Konrad Hurrell on his right for the centres ninth try of the season and his 21st in only 30 career games. With his 19th consecutive goal, Johnson had his side just 12-14 down.


Only a few minutes later the Tigers seemed destined to move clear again with Liam Fulton set to score only to be left crestfallen when a desperate Locke knocked the ball loose right on the goal-line.


Immediately the Vodafone Warriors looked likely again as they hit their right edge, Glen Fisiiahi going close.


The Tigers kept pushing only to undo their work with too many errors. Eventually one cost them the lead when a Robbie Farah bomb, batted down by Lawrence, sat up beautifully for Johnson who went for the throttle and scorched 92 metres downfield for his second try. With his conversion the Vodafone Warriors had the lead for the first time after 55 minutes; they werent about to let it go after that.


Maintaining an impressive completion rate of 81 per cent (29 from 36), they were generally able to control the tone of the contest albeit while holding just an 18-14 lead; however, it should be conceded a sensational tackle on the goal-line by Vatuvei on his opposite David Nofoaluma was needed to snuff out the chance of a late Tigers comeback.


A Johnson grubber kick seemed to have created the vital try of the night for Mannering until the video referee found a knock on as he tried to ground the ball.

Not to fear. The Vodafone Warriors went for the kick trick again and again.


From a sweeping raid they busted up the middle through Johnson, Locke there in support; he pumped through a kick and Johnson all but chased it down for his third try.


In the 67th minute the ploy finally hit pay dirt off another slick set play. From deep inside their half on the fourth tackle, Leuluai ran a decoy, Todd Lowrie shifted the ball out the back to Johnson, his short ball putting Sam Rapira on a 20-metre burst. Johnson stayed in support, got the ball off Rapira and pushed through a grubber which Mannering hunted down expertly beating Lawrence in the race to secure the ball for his 41st career try in his 181st game. With Johnsons 21st consecutive goal, the Vodafone Warriors were 24-14 ahead.


Two Johnson grubber kicks went close to supplying another two tries for Hurrell but in the end the Vodafone Warriors had to be content with a 10-point winning margin.


Provisional stats showed Johnson making 202 metres from eight runs and gaining 440 metres from 15 kicks. Feleti Mateo came up with 131 metres from 16 carries, Rapira 122 from 12 and Vatuvei 121 from 12. Adding real sting was Matagi in his time on the field as he gained 75 metres from seven runs. Nathan Friend (48), Elijah Taylor (37) and Mannering (28) made the most tackles.


However, the victory was clouded by what initially appeared to be a concerning pectoral injury which ended Glen Fisiiahis night early in the second half.


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Match details:

At Leichhardt Oval, Sydney

Wests Tigers 14 (David Nofoaluma, Chris Lawrence, Tim Simona tries; Benji Marshall conversion).

Vodafone Warriors 24 (Shaun Johnson 2, Konrad Hurrell, Simon Mannering tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions).

Halftime: 14-6 Tigers.

Referees: Gavin Badger and Luke Phillips.

Crowd: 11,436.


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