For the second game on end the Vodafone Warriors overcame real adversity as they went on to beat Manly 32-18 in today’s 20th-round New South Wales Cup encounter at Mount Smart Stadium.
A raft of pre-game line-up changes was disruptive enough and then there were more setbacks early in the game as Solomone Kata, Albert Vete and Raymond Faitala-Mariner were all forced off the field.
It meant coach Rohan Smith and his team had to operate for an hour of the game with just 14 fit players.
Only a week earlier the Vodafone Warriors had played a man short for 60 minutes but held on to beat Wyong 6-4 – and they banded together again today for a physical, hard-nosed win.
The visitors had the upper hand early, though, and were on the board first thanks to Zach Nicholls, who mopped up an awkward scrum feed and slipped through the defence to run the ball in from 50 metres out with eight minutes gone.
The response was positive from the Vodafone Warriors and they took the lead after a brilliant offload from Jarrod Tua, who looped the ball across to Solomone Kata while being taken to the ground. Kata planted the ball in the corner and kicked his own conversion to give his side a 6-4 lead.
However, Kata left the field after this sequence with a hamstring concern and wasn’t able to return. His loss followed that of forward Albert Vete, who was forced off within 10 minutes with a rib injury.
The Vodafone Warriors pushed on without them, though, and continued to test Manly's right edge.
Their efforts were rewarded with another try when Tua managed to fight his way over the line to make it 12-4 in the 25th minute following some swift ball movement.
Abraham Papalii, called on to play more minutes than usual because of the injuries, delivered in abundance and was the next to score.
He busted the tackles of Manly captain Jack Littlejohn and fullback Dominic Reardon to score his second try of the season in the 33rd minute.
Reardon responded shortly thereafter, though, as he was able to dart his way through after Sione Lousi gave away a penalty at the halfway mark. The fullback's efforts shortened the lead, making it 16-8 to the Vodafone Warriors at halftime.
Manly was the first out of the blocks on the other side of the break with Delroy Berryman snatching a wayward Carlos Tuimavave pass and out-racing Sam Cook for an 80 metre runaway try in the 50th minute. The lead now stood at 16-12 but that would be as close as Manly would get.
The Vodafone Warriors began to pile on the points, giving themselves a 20-12 buffer through the hands of Papalii in the 65th minute; his ball running was proving simply too muscular for Manly’s defence.
Five minutes later Papalii had his hat-trick, this time doing it in style with a run reminiscent of a youthful Manu Vatuvei to make it a 26-12 ball game. The 114kg forward collected a pass at the 50 metre line and darted wide, fending off Berryman, Littlejohn and Reardon on his way to the try line.
Sam Lousi added to the scoreline in the 76th minute after he picked apart a flat-footed Manly defence.
Manly was able to deliver a parting shot right before the siren, however, with Berryman grabbing a second to make it five tries from two matches after his hat-trick against the Mounties last week. Sean Meaney's conversion made it 32-18 and that would be the way it would stay.
The win sees the Vodafone Warriors return to fifth spot on the ladder. Next Saturday they travel to Sydney to face the sixth-placed Mounties who will be energised after a bye week.
Match details | Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors (Abraham Papalii 3, Solomone Kata, Jarrod Tua, Sam Lousi tries; Sam Cook 2 conversions; Solomone Kata conversion; Carlos Tuimavave conversion).
Manly Sea Eagles (Delroy Berryman 2, Zach Nicholls, Dominic Reardon tries; Sean Meaney conversion).
Halftime: 16-8 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Jamal Thompson.
Vodafone Warriors: Steve Waetford (c); Ngataua Hukatai, Solomone Kata, Dominique Peyroux, Jarrod Tua; Carlos Tuimavave, Michael Sio; Albert Vete, Siliva Havili, Charlie-Paul Gubb; Sione Lousi, Raymond Faitala-Mariner; Agnatius Paasi. Interchange: David Bhana, Abraham Papalii, Sam Lousi, Sam Cook.