For the second year running the Vodafone Warriors have been stopped short of their goal at the NRL Auckland Nines after being eliminated by the unbeaten Cronulla Sharks in today’s quarter-final clash at Eden Park.
Last year the home side was knocked out at the semi-final stage of the tournament, losing 0-8 to eventual winner North Queensland.
This time there was no defensive shutout but the outcome was the same and equally disappointing for the players, staff, members and fans.
As had been the case in their final pool match against Wests Tigers earlier in the day, the Vodafone Warriors made an ideal start down the right, Manu Vatuvei tracking down a kick for his second try of the day. He did his best to run around to the five-point try zone but Shaun Johnson was astray with the conversion from a handy angle.
The 4-0 lead became a 4-7 deficit when the Sharks critically found the five-point try-scoring zone, Chris Heighington over between the posts.
By halftime the lead was in the Vodafone Warriors’ hands with the explosive Solomone Kata streaking 50 metres for his third try of the day. He couldn’t make it to the bonus zone either, Johnson again unable to convert and the lead was 8-7.
In the second half the Sharks went 14-8 ahead through Nathan Gardner, who jinked inside Johnson to plant the ball for a five-pointer and the simple conversion in front. Those two five-pointers would prove so vital in the final wash-up.
The Vodafone Warriors bit back with a Ngani Laumape try wide out on the left, the conversion off target again to leave the Sharks 14-12 in front.
The Vodafone Warriors went close in the final stages but couldn’t finish leaving the largely unheralded Cronulla side to advance to the final four.
The result was grim but the Vodafone Warriors were still quick to show their appreciation for the extraordinary level of support they again received from the fans by doing a lap of the ground. The players couldn't have asked for more from them.
Now the focus moves to the regular form of the game as the Vodafone Warriors eye a programme of trials over the coming three weeks.
It starts with a hit-out against Gold Coast in Toowoomba on February 7 before the club's most important trial against Penrith in Rotorua on February 14. Finally the Vodafone Warriors will stage an inter-squad shakedown at Bruce Pulman Park in Papakura on February 21.