Any doubts about the Vodafone Warriors’ progress in the 2015 NRL Auckland Nines were emphatically removed through their own win over Wests Tigers and then Gold Coast’s shock 38-13 demolition of Canberra at Eden Park today.
Shaun Johnson and his players went into their final Hunua Pool clash desperate for success but also knowing that a win might not be enough.
They found themselves in that predicament after yielding 19 points in the final few minutes to lose 19-23 to the Raiders late yesterday.
That left the Tigers leading the group on four points with a plus 30 points for and against differential with the Vodafone Warriors second on two points (plus three points for and against) and Canberra on two (minus two points for and against).
So a win and hopefully one by a solid margin was paramount for the Vodafone Warriors. In the event they won 22-8 leaving them with a points for and against reading of plus 17; indeed another try would have taken them ahead of the Tigers who finished on plus 18.
Then the focus switched to the Titans and the Raiders. The partisan crowd found a new team to like in Gold Coast and the Titans more than delivered.
They lost both games yesterday including a 0-26 defeat by Wests Tigers but now they were suddenly a transformed force leading 17-6 at halftime and then putting the foot down for a 38-13 victory.
While pleased to have beaten the Tigers the Vodafone Warriors had been forced to sweat for the next 25 minutes to find out their fate (which will now be a quarter-final against Piha Pool winner Cronulla).
The pieces could scarcely have fallen into place better for the Vodafone Warriors today.
It started this morning with Sam Tomkins cleared to play after missing yesterday’s games with a virus.
There’s no question the tournament as whole needed the Vodafone Warriors to advance, especially for the fans at the ground; doubtless most of them would go home early if the right result didn’t come.
The Vodafone Warriors couldn’t have wanted for a better start, creating space out on the right to feed and unleash The Beast. Manu Vatuvei set sail for the line some 40 metres away, flirting with the touchline but getting over.
The 4-0 lead lasted only a couple of minutes before the Tigers returned serve. A last tackle kick was played at and from the repeat set Chris Lawrence went over wide out to make it 4-4.
In the eighth minute the Vodafone Warriors were back in front, this time carving through down the left with Solomone Kata scorching 40 metres and also doing remarkably well to stay in the field of play in getting the ball down.
An 8-4 halftime lead became a comfortable 18-4 with tries to Tuimoala Lolohea and Ben Henry. For the first Ben Matulino charged at the line, popped the ball out over the top to Nathan Friend and he served it up for Lolohea to run into a hole. Henry’s try was astonishing as he fended and backed his way through the line, running and running to score.
A try to Manaia Cherrington try had the margin back to 10 points which was mildly concerning for the home side but then Kata went 40 metres again down the right to take the margin out to 22-8.
One more try would have had the Vodafone Warriors safely through to the quarter-finals but instead they were forced to wait until the Titans answered the call.