Across 20 seasons the Vodafone Warriors have delivered so much brilliant football but they hit utterly sublime levels in crushing Parramatta 48-0 in tonight’s 18th-round 'Back In Black' NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
The pieces all fell into place from the opening moments.
After kicking off the Vodafone Warriors applied the blowtorch immediately, coming at the Eels with offensive defence and then ripping back at them with their first set in possession.
Manu Vatuvei reclaimed possession from the last tackle kick, it was six again and the tone was set.
The Vodafone Warriors worked towards the left, setting up a big line-up on the right. They shifted the ball superbly through multiple sets of hands before Konrad Hurrell gave the final pass to right winger David Fusitu’a with a crack at the corner.
As is his wont, Fusitu’a finished off classically, timing his dive expertly to get the ball down. Shaun Johnson’s conversion was splendid and it was 6-0 after two minutes.
The home side then set about maintaining the rage.
In the 12th minute they were over again through some Johnson magic. Blocked on his left on the last tackle he dummied, slipped through a deft grubber and hunted it down himself for a brilliant try. The conversion was straightforward and the lead was 12-0 in as many minutes.
The next try was pure genius, fullback Sam Tomkins showing off his full range of skills weaving past and through defenders to get the ball down in the 19th minute. Another slick Johnson conversion and it was 18-0.
After a week of tempestuous weather this was turning into the perfect storm, rugby league at its raging best (for the Vodafone Warriors, that is).
They were ‘Back in Black’ for the first time this season at Mount Smart Stadium, with mullet wigs and black T shirts out in force for what was billed as ‘Rock Night’. The joint was certainly rocking and in the 26th minute it was leaping off the Richter scale when the Vodafone Warriors lit up from long range.
Johnson speared through, accelerated on a withering break, arced out to his right and threw a sweet wide pass to the steaming Konrad Hurrell. There was only one possible finish from there, Hurrell marking his 50th NRL match with his 34th try, Johnson making it four from four and the score 24-0.
The fifth try was straight off the training field.
Parramatta had a scrum feed 10 metres out after Johnson found touch with a long kick. The call went out to put the shove on as the Eels fed the scrum. Like everything else that had happened in the preceding 30 minutes, the execution was sublime.
The Eels were shunted right off the ball, Tomkins picked up and then drove and wiggled his way across for a quite stupendous try, one that will doubtless have rugby union buffs in raptures for days. Johnson just couldn’t miss to make it 30-0.
The Vodafone Warriors weren’t done with yet.
From well out they went for accelerator again with Friend serving it up on the right to Townsend, onto Feleti Mateo, to Johnson and then Tomkins – revelling in his best NRL display – cutting past two defenders before linking with captain Simon Mannering.
Parramatta may have thought the scoring weapons were out to Mannering’s right in the shape of Hurrell and Fusitu’a. They thought wrong as Mannering ran on and on to surge over for his 50th career try. Johnson’s sixth conversion had the side 36-0 up.
Everything had been happening. There was even a Chad Townsend 40/20 in the mix in an utterly remarkable opening 40 minutes.
On a night when rock classics pumped out of the stadium's PA system it would have been apt to crank up Robert Palmer's 'Simply Irresistible'.
With match day sponsor TNT committing $500 to charity partner Shine for every try the Vodafone Warriors scored, the bean counters were being kept busy, the total standing at $3000 after the opening half.
The scoring pace slowed appreciably in the third quarter but again the Vodafone Warriors were the aggressors with and without the ball.
In the 53rd minute they arranged a smart try for second rower Ben Henry off a short ball from Johnson and eight minutes later they uncorked another of the night’s extra-special tries.
Mateo’s touch featured as he flicked the ball to his right. On the next play he was at first receiver pushing a nice ball out to his left, Johnson put Mannering through and he found Townsend inside on his right shoulder for try No 8. A a glorious one it was.
Johnson converted both to extend the lead to a mind-boggling 48-0. The club record winning margin of 66-0 against South Sydney in 2006 was under threat for a time but the tempo slowed in the final quarter.
What mattered far more in the final stages was the fact the Eels were held scoreless, ensuring a record win in matches against Parramatta (the previous best being 40-4 the first time the two sides met the Eels at Parramatta Stadium in 1995).
The Vodafone Warriors’ ninth win in 16 games lifted them to 22 points and a hold on sicth spot for now at least.
Next Saturday night they face the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium; before that the Broncos take on competition leader Penrith on Monday night.
In a footnote to the evening TNT will gladly foot a $4000 bill to pay to Shine due to the Vodafone Warriors’ scoring spree.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 48 (Sam Tomkins 2, David Fusitu'a, Shaun Johnson, Konrad Hurrell, Simon Mannering, Ben Henry, Chad Townsend tries; Shaun Johnson 8 conversions).
Referees: Gavin Badger and Henry Perenara.
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Tomkins; David Fusitu’a, Konrad Hurrell, Danie Nielsen, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Nathan Friend, Suaia Matagi; Ben Henry, Simon Mannering (c); Sebastine Ikahihifo. Interchange: Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino, Charlie Gubb, Sam Lousi.