Two tries in the space of three minutes straight after halftime were the defining moments in the Vodafone Warriors’ first win of their 20th anniversary against the Raiders at GIO Stadium in Canberra tonight.
After the teams had gone to halftime locked at 6-6 after a frantic first 40 minutes the tone of the contest took a dramatic turn in the opening seconds of the second half.
From the kick-off Canberra forward Paul Vaughan knocked on behind his line and from the resulting goal-line dropout the Vodafone Warriors took full advantage, aiming to their left where Sam Tomkins’ silky skills sent centre Solomone Kata in for his first NRL try in his second match.
With Shaun Johnson converting the Vodafone Warriors couldn’t really have hoped for a better start to the half – only it did get even better.
From the restart the visiting side rolled downfield irresistibly, working towards their left side again, Chad Townsend pumping up a mid-range bomb with exceptional results.
Canberra fullback Jack Wighton positioned himself to defuse the kick but was left horrified as Vodafone Warriors second rower Ryan Hoffman soared above him to snatch the ball and run around to score his second try in as many games for his new club.
Johnson was on target again and the lead had lengthened to 12 points in the opening four minutes of the half.
It ultimately proved the difference between the two sides but the Vodafone Warriors needed several inspired shifts on defence to protect the lead and turn it into their opening win of the season as well as their second consecutive victory in Canberra (they won 54-18 on their visit last season).
In the 27th minute veteran winger Manu Vatuvei had the first try of his 12th NRL campaign to take his career total to 136 in 196 appearances. He might have had a double but was shunted into touch at the corner a few minutes earlier.
The try he did score was all quality as the Vodafone Warriors went to the open directly from a scrum with Tomkins putting the big man in.
The victory was critical after the club’s season-opening 14-24 loss to Newcastle. The Vodafone Warriors have never previously been subjected to back-to-back away games to open a campaign; not just that but they had been handed two of the most challenging away assignments involving a heavy travel factor.
So to emerge with at least one win was crucial ahead of their first two home games of the year at Mount Smart Stadium against Parramatta (March 21) and Brisbane (March 29). The result has also lifted the Vodafone Warriors into eighth spot on the ladder for now.
After the disappointing aspects of the Newcastle performance, there was much more to like about this effort quite apart from the two competition points.
Senior prop Ben Matulino was give the man of the match award on the night, just reward for an exceptional display. He had 19 runs and made 181 metres as well as coming up with two off loads, a line break assist and 22 tackles.
There were several other outstanding contributors, too.
One of them was Tomkins, back this week after being ruled out with a hamstring injury against Newcastle. He carried the ball 17 times for 157 metres as well as producing two try assists, a line break, two line break assists, three tackle breaks and 10 tackles.
The rest of the back five all delivered, too, especially Vatuvei who made 167 metres from 18 runs with three tackle breaks and a line break plus a memorable hit when he rushed out of the line to shut down a threatening Canberra attack.
Jonathan Wright, playing his first game for the club on the right wing, was also busy with 156 metres from 18 carries while centres Tuimoala Lolohea and Kata went close to 100 metres as well.
In the pack there were contributions across the board. Thomas Leuluai sparked the side from dummy half with some sniping scoots and 21 tackles; Jacob Lillyman made 92 metres from 10 runs and Bodene Thompson finished with 41 tackles.
Two special heroes, though, were second rowers Hoffman and Simon Mannering. Hoffman made 179 metres from 21 runs along with 22 tackles while Mannering followed up 52 tackles last week with 53 plus 117 metres from 13 runs. On the bench tyro NRL props Sam Lisone and Albert Vete both stood up again, especially Lisone who made 155 metres from 15 runs.
While Johnson and Tomkins both needed attention for knocks on the field they both played on without any issues.
The Vodafone Warriors return home on Monday afternoon to prepare for their third-round clash against the Eels, who followed up their victory against Manly with a 12-32 loss to Canterbury-Bankstown on Friday night.
Match details | GIO Stadium, Canberra
Canberra Raiders 6 (Sisa Waqa try; Jarrod Croker conversion).
Vodafone Warriors 18 (Manu Vatuvei, Solomone Kata, Ryan Hoffman tries; Shaun Johnson 3 conversions).
Referees: Adam Devcich and David Munro.
Vodafone Warriors | Sam Tomkins; Jonathan Wright, Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Thomas Leuluai, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Nathan Friend, Ben Henry, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete.