NRL NINES | Run down by Raiders
Canberra turned this contest and the Vodafone Warriors' overall campaign upside down when it staged a remarkable comeback to win today's NRL Nines clash 23-19 at Eden Park.
Neither the players nor their fans could quite believe what happened as a commanding 19-4 lead vanished in the final few minutes.
What it means is that the Vodafone Warriors will need not only success over Wests Tigers in their final pool match tomorrow but they may well need some help in the Canberra-Gold Coast encounter, too.
The Tigers are well on top in the Hunua Pool, having won their two matches 16-10 and 26-0.
Then it becomes tricky.
The Vodafone Warriors have one win and a loss with a points for and against differential of plus three points, Canberra has a win and a loss and a points for and against differential of minus two and the Titans are winless.
In what is now a last-ditch bid to make the quarter-finals, the Vodafone Warriors meet the Tigers at 12.50pm tomorrow. A win of any margin is critical yet it may not be enough - unless the Titans come through for their first win of the tournament against the Raiders in the following game at 1.15pm. If they don't points for and against will come into play.
Soon after halftime it was unthinkable it would come to this.
After conceding the first try the Vodafone Warriors found their groove with tries to Shaun Johnson - a stunner - and Ken Maumalo just before halftime followed by twin strikes immediately afterwards by Tuimoala Lolohea and Matt Allwood. That blew the lead out to 19-4 and only one outcome was imaginable. Or so it seemed.
It might have been even more only another try was disallowed.
Then the worst that could happen did happen.
A Tevita Pagai try brought it back to 10-19 and all too quickly it was 16-19 when Brenko Lee was awarded a try.
Then with seconds left came disaster as Jack Ahearn went across between the posts. There was no time for a miracle escape only the realisation that what ought to have been a safe passage through to the next phase of the tournament had disappeared.
Earlier Johnson had unleashed his range of skills in scoring his try and creating another two but, as head coach Andrew McFadden noted, Nines games change all too quickly. This one certainly did - twice - before finishing the wrong way for the home side.
This tournament has certainly won hearts and minds with the opening day another statement overall but for most in the crowd of 43,054 the sheen was taken off it soon after 7.00pm.