NRL: Vodafone Warriors 50, Raiders 16

Try-scoring record holder Manu Vatuvei and Shaun Johnson both scored hat-tricks as the Vodafone Warriors ended their home season with a storming record 50-16 win over Canberra in Saturday nights 25th-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.


What was easily the clubs biggest victory in history against the Raiders also saw the Vodafone Warriors finish Saturday nights programme of matches sitting inside the NRLs top eight for the first time this season.


Whether theyre still there at the end of the round hinges on the outcome of the two matches scheduled on Sunday when Cronulla hosts North Queensland and the Sydney Roosters entertain Gold Coast. If the Sharks and the Roosters prevail the Vodafone Warriors will go into the final round of the regular season holding eighth spot and knowing victory over the St George Illawarra Dragons in Wollongong next Saturday would earn them a spot in the finals.


Thats to be determined but what cant be questioned is the sheer quality of the football the Vodafone Warriors produced in keeping alive their season and, at the same time, extinguishing the Raiders faint hopes.


This was a day filled with sub-plots.


It was the clubs annual Old Boys day, veteran prop Sam Rapira was making his 150th career appearance, captain Simon Mannering celebrated his 27th birthday just three days earlier, Elijah Taylor was playing his last game at home before linking up with Penrith next year and Vatuveis wife Jen had given birth to Eva, the couples third daughter, last Sunday morning.


Collectively those elements provided the cocktail for a vintage display brimful of all the trimmings which make the Vodafone Warriors such a delight to watch when theyre in their best mood.


In a throwback to the attacking blitz they unleashed in their 56-18 rout of Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium in June, the Vodafone Warriors were at times unstoppable as they followed up a 20-point first half with 30 points in the second.


Thomas Leuluais flat ball laid on the sides quickest try of the year, coming in just the second minute as Taylor ran a sweet line for his seventh touchdown of the season in a performance underlining what a loss he will be.


A sloppy phase followed during which time the Raiders struck twice through Jarrod Croker before the Vatuvei show exploded.


He provided the impetus with a beastly charge from deep inside his own half, offloading to Jerome Ropati on the outside. Moments later, Leuluais nicely weighted grubber kick gave the big man his first try in the 29th minute followed three minutes later by one of the best executed tries of the season.


Working down a short-side alley on the left edge inside their own half, Leuluai, Feleti Mateo, Kevin Locke and Ropati combined beautifully to give The Beast a crack from 30 metres out with only a worried Reece Robinson in front of him.

Fair to say, Robinson came off a poor second as Vatuvei shunted him off and then six minutes later, after more great ball movement, he mowed through the hapless fullback again to complete an astonishing treble.


It took him past 50 tries in matches at Mount Smart Stadium and also boosted his 2013 tally to 15 tries in 18 matches, top of the clubs list once more, overtaking centre Konrad Hurrell (13 in 19 games). Playing his 170th career game fifth equal on the clubs all-time list Vatuvei has a total of 117 tries.


The upshot of this was that the Vodafone Warriors led 20-12 at halftime and then went for the turbo in the second half.


Johnson chimed in with his own hat-trick in even quicker time than Vatuvei had managed just seven minutes as he danced through off a Rapira short ball first, intercepted from deep on defence for his second and then poked through and chased down his own kick for his first NRL treble.


He converted all three to make it 38-12 before laying on a try for Mannering and converting that as well for a 44-12 lead. It became 50 in the 68th minute when the Vodafone Warriors went to their right again, Hurrell feeding Ngani Laumape who came back on an angled run all the way to the posts for his sixth try in his rookie season.


The home teams scoring stopped there but there was time for Canberra to grab a consolation, another try for Croker on a night when a remarkable three hat-tricks were scored.


The Vodafone Warriors' previous highest score against the Raiders was 36 in the home final at Mount Smart Stadium in 2002. The winning margin of 34 points was comfortably better than the previous best of 19 in 2005.


Statistics were overwhelmingly in their favour, not least the line breaks which went their way by a staggering 10-1, three of them to Vatuvei, and they made 1562 metres to Canberras 1138.


Vatuvei accumulated 239 metres from 12 inspirational runs with eight tackle breaks, three off loads and a line break assist. Small wonder he was later named the players player of the day the Meet the Team post-match event at The Deck at SKYCITY.


Locke (149), Hurrell (101), Johnson (135), Rapira (101), Ben Matulino (125) and Jacob Lillyman (131) all topped 100 metres as well.


Johnson went ballistic with his three-try assault in the 49th, 52nd and 56th minutes to help him to a haul of 26 points (he converted seven of the nine tries).


If the style of the win was a joy to behold - and appropriately on Old Boys' Day - it was the two competition points alone which were the most important. They lifted the Vodafone Warriors to 26 points and eighth place for now pending the outcome of other key games yet to be played this weekend.


The final hurdle will be victory against St George Illawarra in Wollongong, where they've never beaten the Dragons before (only the old Illawarra Steelers in 1996).


Match details:

At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

Vodafone Warriors 50 (Manu Vatuvei 3, Shaun Johnson 3, Elijah Taylor, Simon Mannering, Ngani Laumape tries; Shaun Johnson 7 conversions).

Canberra Raiders 16 (Jarrod Croker 3 tries; Jarrod Croker 2 conversions).

Halftime: 20-12 Vodafone Warriors.

Referees: Gavin Badger and Alan Shortall.

Crowd: 15,121.


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