Chad Townsend’s late field goal ensured the Vodafone Warriors put a stop to a case of second half wobbles to secure a 35-28 win over Illawarra in Saturday’s seventh-round New South Wales Cup clash at WIN Jubilee Oval in Sydney.
Despite having a commanding 30-6 halftime lead there was more than a little anxiety as the second-placed Cutters stormed home late to draw within six points of the Vodafone Warriors at 28-34 with six minutes to play.
But with two minutes left Townsend’s cool head prevailed as he slotted the all-important one-pointer for the security of a seven-point lead and with it the side’s third straight win.
Following the preceding wins over Cronulla and Canterbury-Bankstown, the victory has lifted the Vodafone Warriors to nine points and the chance of a spot close to the top four after the remaining matches in the round are played on Sunday.
That the Vodafone Warriors would be pushed to win in the end scarcely seemed plausible in the first half.
Bolstered by NRL players Feleti Mateo, Kevin Locke, Konrad Hurrell, Chad Townsend, Carlos Tuimavave, Sam Lousi and John Palavi, they were on fire throughout most of the first half.
Making the most of a strong wind they surged to a 30-0 lead at close to a point a minute pace. First Mateo laid on a try for prop Nathaniel Peteru and then Tuimoala Lolohea – brought in for the unavailable Steve Waetford (concussion) – scorched through the Illawarra defensive line.
Soon enough a Hurrell offload put prop Albert Vete through a hole and he in turn offloaded to Locke on his inside for the fullback to scamper 40 metres for a try in his comeback match. The score then quickly grew to 30-0 on the back of two tries in a few minutes for Tuimavave.
The Cutters finished the half with a try and were also first to score in the second half when Peter Mata’utia grabbed an intercept but the Vodafone Warriors still seemed to be in sound shape leading 30-12 with 30 minutes to go.
They reinforced their dominance to that point when Agnatius Paasi muscled his way over from close range to have his side 34-12 ahead just a few minutes later.
Suddenly the complexion of the contest changed at the 60-minute mark as the home side came at the Vodafone Warriors with three tries in the space of 14 minutes to trail by just six points.
The Vodafone Warriors put an end to the wobbles, though, galvanising their defence and setting up well for Townsend to ensure victory with his field goal.
They’re on the road again next Saturday facing the Newtown Jets at Henson Park in Sydney.
At WIN Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
Illawarra Cutters 28 (Charly Runciman, Peter Mata’utia, Charlie Faingaa, Willie Mataka, Kiti Glymin tries; Kyle Stanley 4 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 35 (Carlos Tuimavave 2, Nathaniel Peteru, Tuimoala Lolohea, Kevin Locke, Agnatius Paasi tries; Chad Townsend 5 conversions, field goal).
Halftime: 30-6 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Adam Cassidy.
Vodafone Warriors: Kevin Locke; Braxton Stanley, Konrad Hurrell, Carlos Tuimavave, Jarrod Tua; Chad Townsend, Tuimoala Lolohea; Nathaniel Peteru, Michael Sio (c), Albert Vete; John Palavi, Raymond Faitala Mariner; Feleti Mateo. Interchange: David Bhana, Agnatius Paasi, Sam Lousi, Abraham Papalii.