A three-try surge came too late to earn a comeback victory for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in their fifth-round NYC clash against Cronulla at Remondis Stadium on Saturday.
Down 10-32 early in the second half, the depleted Vodafone Junior Warriors side was facing heavy defeat but they steadied, fought their way back into the game and finished impressively by scoring 16 unanswered points in going down 26-32.
The Stacey Jones-coached side was down on experience for the match with a number of key players unavailable.
Prop Sam Lisone moved up to the New South Wales Cup side to join NYC-eligible stars David Fusitua and Tuimoala Lolohea while prop James Taylor and centre Lafu Feagaiga were ruled out with injury; and still on the injury list are Ngataua Hukatai, Viliami Kaveinga and Solomone Kata.
It meant the only significant NYC experience was provided by captain Mason Lino, who played his 46th game in the competition, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Kouma Samson and Metia Lisati (the only players with 20 or more NYC appearances).
Built around them were a few players who had a taste of the grade last year and eight who are in their first NYC season. One of them was 17-year-old Ofahiki Ogden, who made his debut last week, while another 17-year-old Mafoa’aeata Hingano had his first game against Cronulla.
Despite that they struck first through Lisati wide out on the left only to then falter by conceding three tries as talented Cronulla fullback Valentine Holmes made his mark.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors made the last statement of the first half, though. A nice wrap-around move finished with the exciting Hingano throwing a superb short ball for second rower Michael Ki to score his fourth try in two games. With Mason Lino converting, the Sharks led 16-10 at halftime to leave the game in the balance … or so it seemed.
That theory was in tatters in the opening minutes of the second half.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors began well, rolling downfield and setting up for an attacking bomb to the right only for it to lead to a length of the field try to winger Joshua Addo-Carr. Cronulla’s 22-10 lead instantly grew to 28-10 with another converted try from the restart and then 32-10 soon after.
With so much time left in the half the battle was on for the Vodafone Junior Warriors to firstly stem the flow of points. They achieved that but couldn’t add to the scoreboard quickly enough to give them a chance of one of those stunning wins the club has become known for over the years.
It didn’t stop them having a shot and in time the rewards came.
Hingano aimed a nicely-weighted cross-field kick at Lisati out on the left, which he snaffled expertly for his second try; from a scrum play Lisati popped up wide out on the opposite side to put right winger Braxton Stanley across; and in the dying moments Lisati finished off brilliantly with no room to work in to snare his hat-trick (the fourth for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in recent weeks after Tuimoala Lolohea and David Fusitua against the Cowboys and Ki against the Tigers).
There were a number of significant contributions. Maumalo led the metres gained count with an impressive 202 while others to top 100 metres were Ki (137), Lisati (120) and prop Jordan Baldwinson (102). Tuimavave-Gerrard made 34 tackles and hooker Kurt Robinson 31.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors now prepare for their sixth-round clash against Canterbury-Bankstown at Eden Park next Sunday (1.40pm kick-off). The Bulldogs had their fourth loss of the season so far going down 12-44 to the Roosters on Friday night.
At Remondis Stadium, Cronulla
Cronulla Sharks 32 (Valentine Holmes 2, Dallas Wells, Joshua Addo-Carr, Sage Wilder, Taylar Garrett tries; Valentine Holmes 4 conversions).
Vodafone Junior Warriors 26 (Metia Lisati 3, Michael Ki, Braxton Stanley tries; Mason Lino 3 conversions).
Halftime: 16-10 Sharks.
Referee: Matt Noyen and Ziggy Przeklaski-Adamski.
Vodafone Junior Warriors: Brad Abbey; Metia Lisati, George Edwards, Ken Maumalo, Braxton Stanley; Mafoa’aeata Hingano, Mason Lino (c); Jordan Baldwinson, Kurt Robinson, Kouma Samson; Michael Ki, Mason Tonks; Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard. Interchange: Iulio Afoa, Ofahiki Ogden, Jazz Tevaga, Katamiro Atera.