A measured comeback effort fired by a Michael Ki hat-trick carried the Vodafone Junior Warriors to a second straight win as they held out Wests Tigers 26-24 in today’s fourth-round NYC encounter at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
The victory also enabled them to go back-to-back at Westpac following on from their win over Canterbury-Bankstown in last year’s Capital Clash.
The early signs suggested another freewheeling show like the one the Vodafone Junior Warriors produced in trouncing North Queensland 50-12 last Saturday.
Feeding off two early penalties they were in prime position to profit and all too soon they did with second rower Michael Ki powering over in the third minute.
He was in again just a few minutes later steaming onto a last tackle Mason Lino grubber through the line. With Lino converting the first the Vodafone Junior Warriors were 10-0 up and could easily have extended the lead soon after.
It looked like another points-scoring feast might be on the cards.
Instead the contest began to turn as the Tigers began to enjoy some possession and quickly turned it into points through a brilliantly engineered try for fullback Sione Alofi. With Mitchell Moses converting the margin was down to 10-6 in the home side’s favour.
It was the cue for the Vodafone Junior Warriors to step up their intensity again resulting in a well created try for centre Lafu Feagaiga, the seventh of his career in his 12th appearance. Lino was on target and the Vodafone Junior Warriors had restored their 10-point advantage.
A lapse before halftime allowed the Tigers to draw within four points at 12-16 before they went 18-16 ahead with another strike soon after halftime.
There were more twists ahead as this battle pitched this way and then that.
A bad call had the potential to be extremely costly when the Tigers lost the ball, the Vodafone Junior Warriors cleaning up and raiding down the right. They were set to score only to be called back for a perceived knock-on; on being challenged it was proved the call was incorrect but it had robbed the Vodafone Junior Warriors of a certain try.
Fortunately they were next to score with right winger Braxton Stanley crossing wide out to put the Vodafone Junior Warriors in front 20-18 but there was still plenty of time left for the game to take another change in direction.
It did in the most remarkable circumstances. A Moses cross-field seemed likely to go into touch in-goal but an athletic Tom Satterthwaite leapt to bat the ball back infield – straight into centre Marion Seve’s arms for a brilliant go-ahead try. Austin iced it with a superb conversion to have the Tigers 24-20 ahead with 15 minutes to play.
Down to nine players to go and the defining moment came – another perfectly worked set play, Lino pushing through a nicely-weighted grubber and Ki surging through to become the third Vodafone Junior Warrior in two games to snare a hat-trick. Three for Ki it was with the conversion right in front an easy proposition for Lino.
They had the lead 26-24 but there was still time to negotiate to register win number two. Ultimately it was achieved leaving the Vodafone Junior Warriors in the pack on the points table.
The key for the Vodafone Junior Warriors was in the possession area where they completed 32 of their 37 sets.
Prop Sam Lisone was outstanding for the third straight week as he made almost 200 metres while Ki had 23 runs and gained just on 150 metres.
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Vodafone Junior Warriors 26 (Michael Ki 3, Lafu Feagaiga, Braxton Stanley tries; Mason Lino 3 conversions).
Wests Tigers 24 (Sione Alofi, Tom Satterthwaite, Manaia Cherrington, Marion Seve tries; Mitchell Moses 4 conversions).
Halftime: 16-12 Wests Tigers.
Referee: Chris Butler.
Vodafone Junior Warriors: Brad Abbey; Metia Lisati, Lafu Feagaiga, Ken Maumalo, Braxton Stanley; Nathaniel Roache, Mason Lino (c); Sam Lisone (c), Kurt Robinson, Iulio Afoa; Michael Ki, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard; Kouma Samson. Interchange: James Taylor, Ofahiki Ogden, Jordan Baldwinson, Jazz Tevaga.