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 night’s 25th-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
This was a day filled with sub-plots.
It was the club’s 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 Vatuvei’s wife Jen had given birth to Eva, the couple’s 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 they’re 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 Leuluai’s flat ball laid on the side’s 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, Leuluai’s 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 club’s list once more, overtaking centre Konrad Hurrell (13 in 19 games). Playing his 170th career game – fifth equal on the club’s 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 team’s 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.
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 Canberra’s 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).
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.
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.