The Vodafone Junior Warriors provided the second leg of the club’s homecoming clean sweep by handing table-topping Newcastle just its second loss of the season in today’s 12th-round NYC clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
The 34-22 victory was outstanding on all fronts, not least because the Vodafone Junior Warriors were operating under duress as they were forced to battle most of the game without two spine players in standoff Ata Hingano and hooker Kurt Robinson.
Bravery was in rich supply as the rest of the players banded together to initially resist the Knights and ultimately close the contest out with two tries in the final minutes to ice a mature display.
With co-captains Mason Lino and Sam Lisone back in the side from stints in the New South Wales Cup, the Vodafone Junior Warriors couldn’t have been any more impressive early on.
Centre Ken Maumalo strode through the defence for the first try, loose forward James Bell showed his finishing quality from close range yet again and fullback Brad Abbey turned the defence inside out for the third try. With Lino on target, the Vodafone Junior Warriors were 18-0 ahead after 24 minutes.
Injuries began to have an impact slowing Newcastle to come back into it with two tries before halftime to trail just 12-18 at the break.
While a smart try to hooker Nathaniel Roache gave the home side comfort on the scoreboard just after halftime they soon found themselves under the pump as the Knights reacted with two tries to close the gap to 22-24 with 20 minutes to play.
All the momentum seemed to be with Newcastle as the Vodafone Junior Warriors were hanging in courageously.
They might have been down on resources but they lacked nothing in sheer will and, as captain Simon Mannering would do later in his NRL milestone match, Lino came up with clutch plays on his own special day.
In his 50th NYC outing Lino had left his mark throughout but it was three of his deeds in the final 15 minutes which decided the outcome.
First in the 66th minute he cut through superbly for his sixth try of the season and then crucially converted it to take his side eight points clear at 30-22.
And 10 minutes later he served up a splendid ball to put comeback winger Metia Lisati over for his fifth try in five appearances.
The result leaves the Vodafone Junior Warriors seventh on the ladder with 14 points, only two points behind three teams sharing fourth spot.
MATCH DETAILS | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 34 (Ken Maumalo, James Bell, Brad Abbey, Nathaniel Roache, Mason Lino, Metia Lisati tries; Mason Lino 5 conversions).
Newcastle Knights 22 (Tuiala Togiatasi, James de Saxe, Joseph Tapine, Chance Peni tries; Bryce Donovan 3 conversions).
Halftime: 18-12 Vodafone Junior Warriors.
Referees: Clayton Sharpe and Shane Rehm.
Vodafone Junior Warriors: Brad Abbey; Paul Ulberg, Ngataua Hukatai, Ken Maumalo, Metia Lisati; Mafoa’aeata Hingano, Mason Lino (c); Sam Lisone, Kurt Robinson, Bunty Afoa; Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Matiu Love-Henry; James Bell. Interchange: Nathaniel Roache, Toafofoa Sipley, Ofahiki Ogden, Kouma Samson.