The Vodafone Warriors delivered one of the most memorable NRL trial displays in the club's history when they destroyed Brisbane with a nine tries-to-one 48-4 pounding in today's Trans-Tasman Cup encounter at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
After leading 22-4 at halftime, the Vodafome Warriors lit the fuse in the second half to spark a white-hot attacking performance which left the Broncos unable to resist or respond.
Even more pleasingly they were equally impressive on defence, shutting Brisbane out for the last 70 minutes of the contest.
While head coach Matthew Elliott was unable to use frontline contenders Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Dane Nielsen and Ben Henry, he had the comfort of selecting by far his strongest line-up of the trials campaign after being forced to mix and match combinations in the first two hit-outs against Gold Coast and Wigan.
The benefits were immediately evident as the Vodafone Warriors showed an air of confidence derived from their strong showing at the NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park last weekend.
Today's outcome couldn't have been better as they now set themselves for their opening match of the NRL season against Parramatta on March 9 and then a return to Eden for the first of three home games there against the St George Illawarra Dragons on Sunday, March 15 (5.00pm kick-off).
There was a lot to like about the Vodafone Warriors’ cohesion from the outset.
They made ground easily up the middle and when they got a repeat set off a Brisbane error in the fifth minute they didn’t waste time from the resulting scrum, Shaun Johnson ghosting across the field, teasing the defensive line and then finding a hole to scorch through. His conversion was spot on for a 6-0 lead.
There was a lull when the Broncos went to the air in the 13th minute. In the contest the ball ricocheted, finished up in Jack Reed’s arms and he went over. There seemed to be a suspicion of a knock-on but the video referee decreed otherwise and awarded a try Corey Parker couldn’t convert.
The Vodafone Warriors responded superbly with some outstanding football on both edges featuring slick ball work and support.
They went right, Johnson going to the line with options flat or out the back; it was the latter, fullback Sam Tomkins speeding onto the pass and floating out a nice pass to Fisiiahi. Cramped for room with defenders ahead and inside he still squeezed in expertly to get the ball down. Johnson’s conversion was impressive, giving the Vodafone Warriors a 12-4 lead after 20 minutes.
In the 29th minute they stitched together a passage of classic football.
Soft hands from Feleti Mateo and Suaia Matagi released Johnson on a long break. When he was checked the Vodafone Warriors opted to go through the hands to the right on the last tackle, sweet movement from Chad Townsend, Tomkins and Carlos Tuimavave laying on another try for Fisiiahi. No conversion this time but the Vodafone Warriors had a 16-4 lead.
Slick was the word summing up the effort.
The Vodafone Warriors were powering up the middle. They aimed at the posts, tested the Broncos on their line and then put on another lovely set play, Nathan Friend to Mateo from dummy half, running around to collect and putting interchange prop Charlie Gubb through a gaping hole. Johnson’s conversion was a simple task and the Vodafone Warriors had completed one of their best halves of football to go to the break leading 22-4.
More outstanding attack unfolded in the second half. Townsend burst through on the left, was dragged down and got back in the play on the right to put Carlos Tuimavave over for a try he deserved after being provider for Fisiiahi in the first half. Johnson’s conversion was splendid from wide out to make it 28-4 after 48 minutes.
Johnson’s day was over after 50 minutes, ensuring he would be kept on ice until the opening match against the Eels. It meant Tomkins had greater involvement in a playmaking role.
It took a while for the next strike to eventuate but, when it did, it was worth watching.
Solomone Kata, now operating at dummy half, swept the ball off to his left for Townsend to link with Mateo. He found Tomkins with a pass out the back and the Englishman floated a long ball to David Fusitua wide out on the touchline to score. With 15 minutes still to go, the Vodafone Warriors were 32-4 ahead.
They had the scent of more points and found them. Bukuya made a bust and Kata backed him up. Stopped near the line, the ball went left where there were numbers galore. Rather than feed it on Tomkins opted to go it alone against a ragged defensive line, stepped off his left, weaving through and ducking under defenders for his first try for the club. Townsend’s conversion made it 38-4.
It could have been more moments later but centre Jerome Ropati was penalised for a double movement when putting the ball down after another sweeping attack.
It mattered not. The Vodafone Warriors kept pounding the Broncos with their blitzkrieg attack. They had so much to offer and in a matter of minutes they’d shredded Brisbane twice for replacement centre Konrad Hurrell to snare a double - one of them converted - and the score-line read an astonishing 48-4.
It was difficult to recall a better trial display from the Vodafone Warriors in the club’s history.
Johnson was again exceptional in his 50 minutes, Tomkins was every bit as good as his reputation, fellow newcomers Townsend and Bukuya equally impressive and any number of other players excelled as well.
For Elliott the puzzle will be a demanding but pleasant one of who to leave out for the season-opener against the Eels.
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Vodafone Warriors 48 (Glen Fisiiahi 2, Konrad Hurrell 2, Shaun Johson, Charlie Gubb, Carlos Tuimavave, David Fusitua, Sam Tomkins tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions; Chad Townsend 2 conversions).
Brisbane Broncos 4 (Jack Reed try).
Halftime: 22-4 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Jared Maxwell and Grant Atkins.
VODAFONE WARRIORS: Sam Tomkins; David Fusitua, Carlos Tuimavave, Jerome Ropati, Glen Fisiiahi; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino: Simon Mannering (c), Jayson Bukuya; John Palavi. Interchange: Suaia Matagi, Jacob Lillyman, Sione Lousi, Feleti Mateo, Konrad Hurrell, Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Charlie Gubb, Dominique Peyroux.
Head coach: Matthew Elliott.
BRISBANE BRONCOS: Josh Hoffman; Stewart Mills, Dale Copley, Jack Reed, Lachlan Maranta; Kodi Nikorima, Ben Hunt; Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Sam Thaiday; Alex Glenn, Matt Gillett; Corey Parker (c). Interchange: Martin Kennedy, Ben Hannant, Todd Lowrie, Jarrod Wallace, Jake Granville, Jordan Drew, Zach Strasser, Jharal Yow Yeh.
Head coach: Anthony Griffin.