The Vodafone Warriors were left lamenting what was quite literally a last-second defeat by Wests Tigers in Saturday’s New South Wales Cup match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
After leading 26-16 heading into the final stanza of the match they conceded two tries to allow the visitors to draw level at 26-26 with just two minutes to go.
Blake Austin had a shot at a field goal but missed. He might have been the villain then but with the final siren sounding he left the Vodafone Warriors devastated when he stepped through to score the match-winner and convert it for a 32-26 victory.
It was a match the Vodafone Warriors knew they should have won or drawn at the worst, especially given the way they’d asserted themselves after halftime with converted tries to Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Dominique Peyroux.
That extended their 14-8 halftime lead to a healthy 26-12 margin entering the final 20 minutes.
The Tigers, though, have real strike on their flanks in wingers Setefano Taukafa and Taqele Naiyaravaro and, in the 60th minute, Taukafa scored his second try to have his side within 10 of the Vodafone Warriors.
There the margin stayed for the next 10 minutes with the home side pressing for more points without finding any.
The alarm bells started to go when the Tigers put Naiyaravaro over for his second in the 73rd minute, leaving them only six points adrift.
There was cause for real anxiety when the restart went out on the full, the Tigers straight onto attack with the resulting penalty on halfway.
The Vodafone Warriors were desperate to turn the Tigers way but couldn’t come up with the answers as fullback Kurtis Rowe scored and Austin converted to have it 26-26 – and then Austin provided the last-second heroics.
Earlier fullback Carlos Tuimavave, interchange front rower Abraham Papalii and centre David Fusitua had scored in the first half to provide the foundation for a performance which might have – should have – given the Vodafone Warriors their first win of the season.
Instead they remain on three points with a draw and two points from a bye in the first four rounds. Next up for them on Saturday is Cronulla, sitting just one point ahead on the table after a 16-23 loss to Newcastle on Sunday.
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Vodafone Warriors 26 (Carlos Tuimavave, Abraham Papalii, David Fusitua, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Dominique Peyroux tries; Tuimoala Lolohea 3 conversions).
Wests Tigers 32 (Setefano Taukafa 2, Taqele Naiyaravaro 2, Blake Austin 2, Kurtis Rowe tries; Blake Austin 2 conversions).
Halftime: 14-8 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Aaron Donald.
Vodafone Warriors: Carlos Tuimavave; Jarred Wilson, Dominique Peyroux, David Fusitua, Ngani Laumape; Steve Waetford (c), Tuimoala Lolohea; Charles P Gubb, Siliva Havili, Upu Poching; Jarrod Tua, Raymond Faitala-Mariner; Sebastine Ikahihifo. Interchange: Michael Sio, David Bhana, Siliva Havili, Abraham Papalii, Albert Vete.