NYC | Heartbreaking defeat
The Vodafone Junior Warriors went down in heartbreaking fashion to the Parramatta Eels when they were tripped up by a last-minute try in Saturday's 18th-round NYC encounter at Mount Smart Stadium.
After being put on the back foot early, the home side clawed back into the contest and took a 19-18 lead in the 76th minute through an Ata Hingano field goal.
However, the western Sydney youngsters were the ones celebrating at the siren following a try to Leva Li as time expired.
Earlier, Parramatta was the first to score through imposing centre John Folau in the ninth minute. The younger brother of the Waratahs' talisman Israel was able to score despite the attempts of Semisi Tyrell and Brad Abbey to halt his forward progress.
The Eels were in again 10 minutes later after standoff and captain Ryan Matterson picked apart the Vodafone Junior Warriors' defence on a line break which saw him go 30 metres. Fabian Goodall finished the move on the next tackle to make it 8-0 in the 19th minute.
The scoreline remained that way for almost 20 minutes before a flurry of activity at the end of the half.
Interchange hooker Jazz Tevaga put the home side on the board and scored his first NYC try in the process after a powerful run from 10 metres out.
Merely a minute later co-captain Mason Lino gave his side the lead with his seventh try of the year and perhaps his finest. After collecting a Tevaga pass, Lino sold a dummy that threw bewildered ex-Vodafone Junior Warrior Eric Newbigging off-course and the agile halfback was able to slip two more tackles on his way over the try line.
It would have been the perfect end to the half for the Vodafone Junior Warriors but for a last-ditch try to Brandon Reali who came off the bench to score. Zac Dockar-Clay, a Junior Kiwis player, slotted the kick to give his Eels a 14-12 edge heading into the tunnel.
The home side was the first to add to the scoreline in the second half when Tevaga grabbed his second career try after planting a Hingano grubber. Lino slotted the kick to make it a 18-14 ball-game.
However, the Vodafone Junior Warriors' advantage was negated in the 63rd minute after a great high ball from Dockar-Clay floated into the waiting arms of winger Halauafu Lavaka. Dockar-Clay was unable to slot the kick and the scores remained level.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors' chances took a blow when Lino had to leave the field in the 70th minute with a shoulder injury he sustained during an outstanding tackle that pinned the Eels right on their goal-line.
Six minutes later his side set up the pocket for a field goal attempt. With Lino watching from the sideline, Hingano's number was called and he slotted the kick to create a one-point lead.
The Eels were left with time in their hands, however, and they began marching down the field with intent.
In the 78th minute Parramatta received a penalty but given that Dockar-Clay had been poor from the tee all afternoon the Eels decided to pass up the two, instead backing themselves to get the four-pointer.
Their bravado paid off and after testing both edges, the Eels scored when Li was able to muscle his way out over for the match-winning try in the left corner.
Sitting in seventh place prior to the match, the Vodafone Junior Warriors have now slipped a spot to eighth with eight rounds to go.
They face a tall task next Saturday as they travel to face the second-placed Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.
Match details | Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 19 (Jazz Tevaga 2, Mason Lino tries; Mafoa’aetea Hingano field goal; Mason Lino 3 conversions).
Parramatta Eels 22 (John Folau, Fabian Goodall, Brandon Reali, Halauafu Lavaka, Leva Li tries; Zac Dockar-Clay conversion).
Halftime: 14-12 Parramatta Eels.
Referees: Chris Butler and Shane Rehm.
Vodafone Junior Warriors: Brad Abbey; Viliami Kaveinga, Semisi Tyrell, Ken Maumalo, Metia Lasati; Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Mason Lino (c); Iulio Afoa, Kurt Robinson, Sam Lisone (c); Toafofoa Sipley, Marata Niukore; Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard. Interchange: Nathaniel Roache, Jazz Tevaga, Paul Tuli, Ofahiki Ogden.