Three second half tries propelled the Vodafone Warriors to a memorable 30-20 win over in-form Penrith in Sunday's 16th-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
After being 12-16 down at halftime, the Vodafone Warriors hit back with tries to captain Simon Mannering and centre Konrad Hurrell in the 46th and 62nd minutes.
With Shaun Johnson converting both tries they had a 24-16 lead but, having worked to gain an eight-point lead, they then conceded a try from distance almost immediately when Matt Moylan cut through to lay on a try for James Segeyaro. Peter Wallace failed to convert but the home side's lead was just 24-20 with 12 minutes to play.
With the Panthers searching for a second successive strike and possibly the lead, Johnson produced the match-clinching deed in the 73rd minute when he intercepted a Segeyaro pass, popping it up in the air, regaining the ball and exploding almost 60 metres to score near the posts. With the conversion the Vodafone Warriors were out to a 30-20 advantage.
They closed proceedings out from there to move into the black on the wins and losses register for the first time this season - 8-7 - and claim a place in the top eight on 18 points for the time being (pending the outcome of Melbourne's clash against St George Illawarra on Monday night; with their second bye next week they will move to 20 points with nine matches to play).
While the Vodafone Warriors went into the match as selected the Panthers had key line-up changes.
Giant centre Jamal Idris returned in the centres to mark Vodafone Warriors blockbuster Hurrell and there was also a change in the starting forward pack with the clever Tyrone Peachey coming in at loose forward and Adam Docker going to the bench.
The Vodafone Warriors had possession from the kick-off, Hurrell with a strong first carry leading to a penalty.
From the repeat set the Vodafone Warriors threatened on the left through Dane Nielsen and then Mannering before coming back to the right and creating an opportunity for Hurrell to power through in trademark style for his 32nd career try in his 49th NRL appearance. Johnson’s conversion from wide out on his ‘wrong’ side was splendid and it was 6-0 after only two minutes.
The Panthers aimed their early attack through Idris.
He threatened near the line once but the Vodafone Warriors stormed back downfield playing with tempo.
They set up for a shot at the Panthers via their left side, Sam Tomkins with the ball and throwing a sweet cut-out pass to unleash the big man Manu Vatuvei – now with dark beard and hair again – 10 metres out. There could be only one outcome, try No 10 for the season and No 128 for the career for ‘The Beast’. Johnson’s conversion was on the mark again and the lead was 12-0 after 13 minutes.
For the rest of the half, though, the Panthers dominated possession and field position to earn three tries in the space of 12 minutes.
Jamie Soward stole through for the first next to the right-hand post – and ignited a bit of a post-try melee – before Josh Mansour and Moylan crossed to secure a run of 16 points without reply.
Soward also caused consternation among the Mount Smart faithful when he lay on the ground for some time appearing to do his best to buy a penalty but it transpired he had picked up a knee injury which prevented him returning for the second half.
The Vodafone Warriors began the second half ideally by building pressure and earning a reward through a nicely-constructed try for Mannering, the 49th of his career. With Johnson's conversion they edged ahead 18-16.
In the 62nd minute Moylan lost possession behind his own line, Hurrell swooping to get his second touchdown of the night millimetres inside the dead ball line. Again Johnson converted but the eight-point lead became four when Segeyaro scooted clear.
So it was left to Johnson to ice a vital victory, end Penrith's run of success and give the Vodafone Warriors the best possible outcome heading into their second bye.
Next up on July 12 is another date at home against Parramatta.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 30 (Konrad Hurrell 2, Manu Vatuvei, Simon Mannering, Shaun Johnson tries; Shaun Johnson 5 conversions).
Penrith Panthers 20 (Jamie Soward, Josh Mansour, Matt Moylan, James Segeyaro tries; Jamie Soward 2 conversions).
Halftime: 16-12 Panthers.
Referees: Gerard Sutton and Adam Devcich.
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Tomkins; David Fusitu’a, Konrad Hurrell, Danie Nielsen, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Nathan Friend, Sam Rapira; Jayson Bukuya, Simon Mannering (c); Sebastine Ikahihifo. Interchange: Feleti Mateo, Suaia Matagi, Charlie Gubb, Ben Henry.