A sizzling run of 30 unanswered points gave the Vodafone Junior Warriors a remarkable 30-13 win over Penrith in Sunday's 16th-round NYC clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
The first half had a strong sense of déjà vu about it.
Only a week earlier the Vodafone Junior Warriors had been on the receiving end as Brisbane dominated possession and the scoreboard in surging to a 30-0 lead at halftime.
This time the Panthers had a similar mortgage on possession in the first 40 minutes with 24 sets and a high completion rate; logic suggested they should have led by more than 13-0 with the amount of ball they had but they couldn’t get the better of the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ tenacious defence.
The defensive effort not only kept the Stacey Jones-coached side in the match but also gave them confidence heading into the second half.
For all that what unfolded was extraordinary as the Vodafone Junior Warriors hit the Panthers again and again to turn the match on its head with five converted tries.
The breath-taking comeback was launched in the opening moments of the second spell when interchange prop Paul Tuli unleashed on the Panthers with an inspired charge which desperately deserved to be finished with a try. He threw himself at Penrith’s line from near the halfway line, powered through it and set sail for the goal-line. He got across for a would-be try only for replays to find the ball had been dislodged as he was in the act of trying to score.
Instead of a try a goal-line dropout was ruled and, from the repeat set, the Vodafone Junior Warriors scored in any case with right winger Metia Lisati setting in motion a sequence of scoring which would also see Ofahiki Ogden, Brad Abbey, Semisi Tyrell and debutant Marata Niukore crossing. Mason Lino was faultless with the boot, converting all five tries and taking his NYC career points tally past the 400 mark.
The Vodafone Warriors have moved up to seventh on the ladder with 18 points – the same as their NRL counterparts – and will improve to 20 with their bye next weekend before they face Parramatta at Mount Smart Stadium on July 12.
Match details | Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 30 (Metia Lisati, Ofahiki Ogden, Brad Abbey, Semisi Tyrell, Marata Niukore tries; Mason Lino 5 conversions).
Penrith Panthers 13 (Brendan Attwood, Chris Smith tries; Corey Harawira 2 conversions; Sam Scarlett field goal).
Halftime: 13-0 Panthers.
Referees: Jon Stone and Lawrence McDonnell
Vodafone Warriors: Brad Abbey; Paul Ulberg, Nathaniel Roache, Semisi Tyrell, Metia Lisati; Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Mason Lino (c); Iulio Afoa, Kurt Robinson, Sam Lisone (c); Michael Ki, Toafofoa Sipley; James Bell. Interchange: Ofahiki Ogden, Jazz Tevaga, Paul Tuli, Marata Niukore.