Second half tries to Simon Mannering and David Fusitu'a backed up by a defensive shutout carried the Vodafone Warriors to a 24-16 win over Gold Coast in Saturday night's NRL clash in Robina.
The victory, the Vodafone Warriors' seventh on end against the Titans in the last four seasons, was their fifth of the 2014 campaign lifting them to 10 points just outside the top eight.
Yet again it was their defence which turned the contest.
After conceding 16 first half points the Vodafone Warriors tuned up their defensive intensity and efficiency in the second half to keep the Titans scoreless (the first time they've achieved a second half clean sheet this season).
It maintained the Vodafone Warriors’ defensive improvement which has seen them restrict opponents to an average of less than 16 points a game in the six matches Andrew McFadden has been on board as head coach.
The second half display was in contrast to a dazzling first half in which the Coal Train – aka David Taylor – seemed to be shunting the Vodafone Warriors around singlehandedly at times as he scored a hat-trick to have his side 16-14 ahead at halftime.
Taylor’s third try right on the break gave his side a slender lead after the freewheeling opening 40 minutes.
Early on the Vodafone Warriors were starved of possession, the Titans coming at them with the first four sets of the match after picking up back-to-back penalties from the kick-off as well as a six-again call after the Vodafone Warriors had played at the ball.
Having repelled Gold Coast’s initial onslaught, though, the Vodafone Warriors showed what they could do in possession, posing danger coming out of their own quarter especially when Manu Vatuvei thundered into the Titans’ defensive line.
The ball was shifted in Konrad Hurrell’s direction and he smashed ahead, powering through tackles and going close to making it all the way to the line for what would have been an extraordinary try even by his standards.
Through direct football the Vodafone Warriors were creating pressure and soon enough it paid off courtesy of a set play transported from Eden Park to Robina.
In front of the posts, Nathan Friend swung the ball left to Chad Townsend who had plenty of runners to select from; as he did at Eden Park against Canberra two weeks ago, he served the ball up to Ben Matulino who had a clear passage to the line for his third try of the season (also the third consecutive match he has scored the opening try).
With Shaun Johnson nursing a tender groin, the goal kicking duties were passed on to Chad Townsend. He hooked his first attempt of the night leaving the Vodafone Warriors 4-0 up after 10 minutes.
The Titans were full of endeavour with the ball. They probed through the left edge, rolled in a kick which Sam Tomkins attacked as he tried to secure the ball and get it back into play in the one motion; it came unstuck, Tomkins losing the ball and Taylor swooping on the gift to score. Beau Henry’s conversion had the Titans leading 6-4 after 18 minutes.
It didn’t last long at all.
David Fusitu’a, called in to replace an injured Kevin Locke, attacked up the middle and offloaded superbly to Johnson on his shoulder. If he had some trouble with his groin it wasn’t showing, Johnson veering left and racing away from the fleet-footed William Zillman for a brilliant try, the 33rd of his career. Townsend’s radar was on target for a 10-6 lead.
Taylor was bound to be a menace at various stages in this contest. In the 27th minute he was far more than a menace, more the ultimate destructive footballing force as he bulldozed his way across taking Johnson for a ride in the process. Henry couldn’t convert, much to the delight of the massive contingent of Vodafone Warriors members and fans in the crowd.
While the score-line read 10-10 there was nothing equal about the key statistical indicators. By the 34th minute the penalty count was an astonishing 7-1 in Gold Coast’s favour ensuring they had a stranglehold on possession.
Finally after 35 minutes the Vodafone Warriors received only their second penalty of the night and instantly reaped rewards from it, aiming out to their right from close to the Titans’ line; Townsend’s cut out pass was brilliantly scooped up low down by Hurrell who then gave Fusitu’a a cruise in for his second NRL try. Townsend’s conversion was well out to the left to leave his side 14-10 ahead.
From the restart the Vodafone Warriors went downfield with ease, going left on the last tackle with Townsend stabbing a kick through only to have it charged down by Gold Coast loose forward Paul Carter. Carter patently knocked on but was allowed to proceed by the officials; he found David Mead in support and then Gold Coast went wide to the left to the immovable Taylor once again. He couldn’t be budged as he ran on and on for a first half hat-trick. Henry converted for a 16-14 halftime lead but it beggared belief that Carter’s knock-on went unchecked.
The second half was only five minutes old when the Vodafone Warriors responded to the poor first half call, Feleti Mateo sending captain Simon Mannering powering towards the line and wrestling his way across (although he did need some help from the video referee after on-field referee Gavin Morris had given it a 'no try' call initially). Townsend's conversion from close to the posts had his side leading 20-16.
The Vodafone Warriors' reaction after the go-ahead try was exemplary as they got into the grind, playing out sets, finishing with good kicks and strong chases. The pressure built to the point they were able to force back-to-back goal-line drop outs through deft kicks from both Johnson and Townsend.
Gold Coast could handle it only so long, finally breaking in the 61st minute as Hurrell flicked out a sweet offload for Fusitu'a to finish off athletically wide out on the right for his second try of the night. Townsend's conversion stayed just left for 24-16 lead.
The lead might have and probably should have improved as the pressure was maintained. There was one magical moment - and an absolute rarity - when the Vodafone Warriors put a nudge on after a Gold Coast scrum feed, forcing the Titans to make an error to earn a feed just metres out.
While there were no further points, the Vodafone Warriors were composed in closing the match out, the only issue being an ankle injury which saw Johnson finish the match on the bench.
Critically the two competition points were secured to seal a third away win this season after earlier successes in Townsville and Melbourne. It was also the first time this season that the Vodafone Warriors' NRL, NYC and New South Wales Cup sides have completed a cleansweep of victories in the same round (the Vodafoine Junior Warriors beat the Titans 20-16 and the club's New South Wales Cup side beat North Sydney 36-22).
Now the Vodafone Warriors head home to prepare for their first match of the season at Mount Smart Stadium next Sunday (June 1) when they face Newcastle. The 'Return to Mount Smart' sparks a run in which they play eight of their last 13 regular season games at their traditional home.
It will be a grand occasion marked by double personal milestones for Mannering who will make both his 200th NRL match and his 100th as captain on the same day while Friend will play his 50th match for the Vodafone Warriors.
At Cbus Super Stadium, Robina
Gold Coast Titans 16 (David Taylor 3 tries; Beau Henry 2 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 24 (David Fusitu'a 2, Ben Matulino, Shaun Johnson, Simon Mannerng tries; Chad Townsend 2 conversions).
Halftime: 16-14 Titans.
Referees: Gavin Morris and Henry Perenara.
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Tomkins; David Fusitu’a, Konrad Hurrell, Ngani Laumape, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino; Jayson Bukuya, Ben Henry; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Siliva Havili, Suaia Matagi, Feleti Mateo, Sebastine Ikahihifo.