After amassing almost 100 points in their previous four games the Vodafone Warriors failed to score at all as they were eliminated by North Queensland at the semi-final stage of the NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park today.
The Cowboys needed just a try in each half to make the final of the $2.6 million tournament with an unlikely 8-0 win.
It was a result at odds with almost all that had gone before across two days, particularly from the Vodafone Warriors who had their attack singing when beating Canberra 25-14, Manly 27-4, North Queensland 28-23 and South Sydney 17-16. They’d scored 17 tries and tallied 97 points.
The had the means to do more of the same to move past North Queensland for a place in the grand final against traditional rival Brisbane, which eliminated Cronulla 18-14 in the first semi-final.
For the first time the attack didn’t gel, though. Captain Shaun Johnson later said the side had been guilty of moving the ball laterally too much; he also conceded the Cowboys had done a decent defensive job on them.
This was a North Queensland side which had sneaked into the last eight with just one win, a 24-0 success against Canberra, and then eliminated Penrith in the quarter-finals for a second win.
By the semi-final stage bodies were being asked serious questions as players lined up for their third match of the day, their fifth in two days.
North Queensland profited from an early-tackle error by the Vodafone Warriors, claiming possession near halfway and finishing the set with a try wide out; Kyle Feldt took Robert Lui's floated long pass and put the ball down expertly.
No conversion and then another Cowboys try was on offer until Sam Tomkins snuffed out the threat with a much-needed spot tackle.
Finally there was more than a sniff. A kick and great chase forced a goal-line drop out but there wasn’t quite enough time to arrange a strike before halftime, the Cowboys going to the break 4-0 ahead.
When they hit their right edge early in the second spell they created a try for Javid Bowen, leaving the Vodafone Warriors in trouble trailing 0-8. There was no way back from the deficit as the Cowboys choked the home side’s attack expertly.
The result was bitterly disappointing for the Vodafone Warriors as they hunted the ultimate outcome in the biggest rugby league event staged in New Zealand (it was sold out drawing an attendance of almost 90,000 across the two days.
All there was left to do was a thank you lap of the ground to acknowledge the outstanding support they’d received.
The Sharks also did a nice job thanking the crowd after their defeat, soaking up the atmosphere after a special two-day experience they won't forget; nor will any of the teams involved in what has been an exceptional event.
Eden Park, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 0.
North Queensland Cowboys 8 (Kyle Feldt, Javid Bowen tries).
Halftime: 4-0 Cowboys.
Referee: Ben Cummins.
Vodafone Warriors 17 (Glen Fisiiahi, Ngani Laumape, Shaun Johnson (bonus) tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions).
South Sydney Rabbitohs 16 (Chris McQueen, Nathan Merritt, Dylan Walker tries; Apisai Koroisau conversion; Dylan Walker conversion).
Halftime: 10-4 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.
Vodafone Warriors 28 (Sebastine Ikahihifo 2 (one bonus), Carlos Tuimavave, Ngani Laumape, Shaun Johnson (bonus) tries; Shaun Johnson 3 conversions).
North Queensland Cowboys 23 (Antonio Winterstein 2, Kyle Feldt, Kane Linnett, Zac Santo (bonus) tries; Robert Lui conversion).
Halftime: 15-8 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Ben Cummins.