The Vodafone Junior Warriors wound the clock back three seasons in handing the Canberra Raiders a 54-0 shutout in their ninth-round NYC clash at Eden Park on Saturday night.
The last time they kept an opponent scoreless was 64 games ago in the 64-0 thrashing of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in their penultimate finals match before beating North Queensland to win the NYC premiership in 2011.
If the club’s Eden Park tripleheader began indifferently with a 22-42 reverse for the club’s New South Wales Cup side it ended in a blur of points with the NYC and NRL teams both bagging 54 points, a total of 108 points across the 160 minutes the two teams played. Days like these don’t come around too often.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors’ display against the Raiders marked an impressive response after their last outing, a 14-36 loss to the Storm.
What also stood out about the performance was the fact it was achieved by a much-changed combination and against a side which had an identical four wins-four losses record going into the contest.
Coach Stacey Jones still has some key players injured while this week he lost his senior playmaker and co-captain Mason Lino as well as centre Solomone Kata to the New South Wales Cup side.
Critically, too, Jones fielded three debutants in the backline with rookie wingers in Paul Ulberg and John Wesley Tauti as well as halfback Mikaere Beattie. The latter was paired in the halves with the promising Ata Hingano, who recently turned 17 and was playing only his fifth NYC games.
Despite the lack of experience across the squad, the Vodafone Junior Warriors set the scene for the NRL fixture to follow; they got into a groove immediately and never relaxed.
By halftime they were right out of touch for Canberra, having built up a 32-0 lead in a display equally appealing for the quality of the attack and the defence. The scoring rate slowed a little in the second half with 22 points scored but the hunger on defence remained.
Both new wingers Ulberg and Tauti crossed – Ulberg a double – while forwards Matiu Love-Henry and Jordan Baldwinson also scored their first NYC tries. The side’s most experienced player on the field, centre Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, as well as loose forward James Bell also scored twice.
Hingano took over the goal-kicking duties in Lino’s absence, converting seven of the 10 tries scored.
The scoreboard told one story while the other stats reinforced it, the Vodafone Junior Warriors making 12 line breaks to just two, completing 32 of 40 sets (17 from 33 for the Raiders), making 1669 metres (Canberra 952), missing only 19 tackles to 52 and making only eight errors to 18.
Nine players made more than 100 metres – Brad Abbey 119 from 11 runs, Ulberg 164 from 13 (plus 12 tackle breaks), Ken Maumalo 162 from 15, Sam Lisone 157 from 14, Michael Ki 132 from 15, Love-Henry 134 from 16, Bell 100 from 14, James Taylor 141 from 12 and Nathaniel Roache 139 from 11.
With the win the Vodafone Junior Warriors moved up to fifth on the table having won five of their last seven games. Next week they take on the bottom-placed Bulldogs at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
At Eden Park, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 54 (James Bell 2, Paul Ulberg 2, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard 2, Michael Ki, Matiu Love-Henry, John Wesley Tauti, Jordan Baldwinson tries; Ata Hingano 7 conversions).
Canberra Raiders 0.
Halftime: 32-0 Vodafone Junior Warriors.
Referees: Chris Butler and Kasey Badger.
Vodafone Junior Warriors: Brad Abbey; Paul Ulberg, Ken Maumalo, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, John Wesley Tauti; Mafoa’aeata Hingano, Mikaere Beattie; Sam Lisone (c), Kurt Robinson, Kouma Samson; Michael Ki, Matiu Love-Henry; James Bell. Interchange: James Taylor, Alamoti Finau, Jordan Baldwinson, Nathaniel Roache.