The Vodafone Warriors couldn’t build on a six-point halftime lead as they went down 12-31 to St George Illawarra in today’s second-round NRL clash at Eden Park.
The pain of a second defeat to start the 2014 campaign was exacerbated by another serious knee injury for Ben Henry.
Playing his first NRL match since season-ending surgery on his left knee in May last year, Henry is tonight facing the prospect of another season on the sideline. Late in the game he went down with an injury to the same knee and immediately sensed the worst; the extent of the damage will be confirmed early nxt week but the signs aren't encouraging.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott was devastated about Henry's latest setback as were all oh his team-mates and staff.
It further soured what happened on the field in the second half after the home side had led 12-6 at the break.
Inside the opening minuites of the second spell the Vodafone Warriors had seen the lead transformed into a six-point deficit; they were unable to find a way back into the contest after a two-try setback and finished up conceding 25 unanswered points.
The effort belied some of the signs seen in the first 40 minutes.
After last week’s disappointment, especially the opening stanza, the minimum requirement for the Vodafone Warriors was a vastly improved start in all aspects of their game. They ticked some boxes early on, most significantly through the manner in which they competed physically.
Within five minutes they were rewarded for their intent, Sam Tomkins timing his intrusion to perfection and piercing through for his first NRL try.
There wasn’t as much to like about the way the Dragons were able to come back into the game to score their first try, hooker Mitch Rein given far too much latitude in front of the posts as he crossed from dummy half. With Gareth Widdop’s conversion the Dragons led 6-4 after 17 minutes.
Showing patience and maintaining their intensity, the Vodafone Warriors steadied and then came back at the Dragons, setting up for a shift to the right. Jerome Ropati had to check to collect a pass, propped and cut through the defence running against the grain for his 54th career try in his 143rd appearance. Johnson’s conversion had his side leading 10-6.
The Dragons then missed out on two tries. Widdop put the ball down but video analysis revealed a knock-on in the kick contest; Widdop pulled off a slick chip and chase play, fullback Adam Quinlan had a try in the corner on offer but lost control as Dane Nielsen made a desperate tackle.
Along the way the Vodafone Warriors twice had a chance to kick penalties but each time they chased more points, only to turn the ball over early in the tackle count both times. When a third opportunity was presented on halftime they went for goal to take a 12-6 halftime lead.
Too soon the advantage was completely lost.
A bomb was spilled, Quinlan cleaned up the scraps for a try and two minutes later Widdop’s deft grubber created a try for former Kiwi Gerard Beale. Widdop added the extras to both to propel the Dragons into an 18-12 lead.
It sparked the match into a phase of frenetic activity.
Johnson danced his way through defenders near the line and looked set to score but lost the ball. The Dragons gave Brett Morris a look at the left-hand corner and he and his team-mates claimed a try when it was surely obvious this time – just for once – that he’d gone into touch before putting the ball down. Upstairs it went. No try. It shouldn’t have needed a review at all.
So the contest entered the last 20 with six points still separating the sides, the Vodafone Warriors desperate to make amends for last week’s disappointment in the last 20 minutes.
A Morris error behind his line seemed to have given the Vodafone Warriors a try to the returning Ben Henry but after an agonising number of replays it was finally decided Henry had been offside. Penalty to the Dragons.
The Vodafone Warriors came back with a Johnson last tackle kick. Instead of a possible try or at least the chance to force another goal-line drop out, Morris collected the kick, evaded the chasers and went the length of the field for what was the match-sealing try.
At Eden Park, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 12 (Sam Tomkins, Jerome Ropati tries; Shaun Johnson conversion, penalty).
St George Illawarra Dragons 31 (Mitch Rein, Adam Quinlan, Gerard Beale, Brett Morris, Ben Creagh tries; Gareth Widdop 5 conversions, field goal).
Halftime: 12-6 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Jared Maxwell and Grant Atkins.
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Tomkins; Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Jerome Ropati, David Fusitua; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino; Jayson Bukuya, Simon Mannering (c); John Palavi. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Suaia Matagi, Ben Henry, Feleti Mateo.