A late comeback wasn't enough to give the Vodafone Warriors victory and a spot inside the top eight when they went down 14-18 to Cronulla in Saturday night's 21st-round NRL encounter at Mount Smart Stadium.


The visitors, up 10-4 at halftime, had worked their way to an 18-4 advantage heading into the final 10 minutes.


Only then did the Vodafone Warriors light up after being down a few notches on their recent standards.


In the 70th minute centre Konrad Hurrell muscled his way across shunting off former NYC team-mate Sosaia Feki for his 11th try in 15 games this season, Shaun Johnson converting splendidly from the sideline to reduce the margin to 10-18 with 10 minutes to play.


Four minutes later a great escape was totally on the cards, Johnson going to the air and Manu Vatuvei rising to claim the catch for his second try of the night (giving him 12 in 14 games this season).


No conversion from Johnson this time but the Vodafone Warriors had a hold on the contest, the crowd of 15,209 willing them home. And when Johnson cut through there was every reason to believe only for his transfer to the support he expected on the outside to find nothing but the touchline.


It was effectively the last chance, the Sharks scrambling to hold on for an 18-14 win they unquestionably deserved on the flow of the battle.


Vodafone Warriors head coach Matt Elliott didn't begrudge Cronulla its success but he and captain Simon Mannering bemoaned a drop in application and energy after last Sunday's high-quality display in beating Melbourne 30-22.


The evidence could be found in numerous statistics. The Vodafone Warriors completion rate dropped to 67 per cent (26 from 39), errors were up to 13 and missed tackles 36; against Melbourne the completion rate was 84 per cent, they missed only 21 tackles and made just six errors.


Both the quality and the manner of the game were on a different scale. Last Sundays contest featured 17 line breaks in total ensuring a freewheeling contest from the opening moments to the end. It was heavy-duty fare against the Sharks, as it was always likely to be. There were just five line breaks with the Vodafone Warriors limiting Cronulla to only two of those. It was also a penalty-ridden affair with 16 penalties in total, 10-6 in the Vodafone Warriors favour and an illustration of the way in which the Sharks push the envelope in the play the ball area.


With this being a battle of attrition, the defensive workload was heavy in the middle with hooker Nathan Friend making 57 tackles, Elijah Taylor 41, Todd Lowrie 31, Sam Rapira 30 and Jacob Lillyman 27. Lillyman was the sides top metre gainer with 132 metres from 16 runs, Hurrell made 122 from 11, Ben Matulino 113 from 13 and Ngani Laumape 103 from 12.


While the Vodafone Warriors werent quite on song, they were never out of the match to the point they battled back to give themselves a shot at victory in the closing minutes. If that was a positive so was the fact they were able to report no injuries for the second game running.


The result provided a lifeline for Newcastle for at least a week. It slipped up with an 18-18 draw against Brisbane last night which meant the Vodafone Warriors would move into the top eight had they been able to beat the Sharks.


Next up is another huge challenge when they face Manly at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford next Sunday.


Match details:


At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

Vodafone Warriors 14 (Manu Vatuvei 2, Konrad Hurrell tries; Shaun Johnson conversion).

Cronulla Sharks 18 (Jonathan Wright, Ben Pomeroy, Nathan Stapleton tries; Todd Carney 2 conversions, penalty).

Halftime: 10-4 Sharks.

Referees: Matt Cecchin and Gavin Reynolds.

Crowd: 15,209.


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