A first quarter scoring explosion helped the Vodafone Warriors to a 29-16 victory over Parramatta and one of their better starts to an NRL season with two wins from their first three starts.
The Simon Mannering-led side had the Mount Smart Stadium faithful in raptures as they cut loose in the opening 20 minutes of their first home game of the season, scoring in the fourth, ninth, 17th and 20th minutes to surge to a 22-0 lead.
It was close to being even better as the Vodafone Warriors evoked memories of the last time the two sides met at Mount Smart in July last year when they shot out of the blocks to lead 36-0 at halftime before slowing up to take the contest 48-0.
This time the points-scoring assault wasn’t as sustained but the first half effort aided by a fifth try early in the second spell had the Vodafone Warriors on target for an important 13-point win and the reality of sitting on four points after three rounds.
Central to much of the scoring action was standoff Chad Townsend as the Vodafone Warriors measured their attack at Parramatta’s right edge defence.
He threatened to break through for the opening try but, when stopped short of the line, played the ball quickly for Ryan Hoffman to go over from dummy half for his third try in as many games as a Vodafone Warrior.
Townsend was the instigator again five minutes later pushing through a deft grubber for rookie centre Solomone Kata to race onto for his second NRL try.
And on the 20-minute mark the No 6 made his mark once more, making a scorching 40-metre break after running onto a superb short ball from Simon Mannering before throwing a wide pass to his left for Manu Vatuvei to score.
Move forward to the 46th minute and Townsend had another try assist, aiming a mid-range bomb to the left, dropping it for Kata to climb, claim the ball and get it down for his second try.
The only touchdown which didn’t have Townsend’s touch in it was the Vodafone Warriors’ third in the 17th minute when Vatuvei carried the ball forward as strongly as he always does from his end. He played it quickly on the 20, hooker Thomas Leuluai saw the opportunity jumping out of dummy half on a 40-metre break and finding Tuimoala Lolohea on his right to surge the last 40 metres for his first NRL try.
The Vodafone Warriors had dominated every aspect of the contest to that point. In the first half they’d completed 21 of 23 sets while the Eels had only 15 sets and completed 11. They made four line breaks to none, had 114 runs with the ball to 66, made 1023 metres to 579, made only 131 tackles to 213 and missed just five tackles to 14.
Having built a 28-0 lead the contest’s complexion then changed when Vodafone Warriors fullback Sam Tomkins was forced off with a knee injury.
With possession beginning to favour them, the Eels tested the home side’s reshuffled line-up and found some joy with three tries in the space of 12 minutes to Brad Takairangi, David Gower and Reece Robinson to close the margin to 12 points with 17 minutes still to play.
The Vodafone Warriors re-composed themselves, got back into the grind and set about closing the contest. They did it well, setting up for a field goal opening for Shaun Johnson to take them out to a 13-point lead.
The victory iced a memorable day with the club's three teams all winning as hooker Nathan Friend made his 200th NRL appearance and Ben Henry his 50th. Vatuvei’s try was the 137th of his career in his 197th appearance leaving him three short of equalling Nigel Vagana’s record for the most tries in the competition by a New Zealander; the try also lifted his career points total to 548, taking him past James Maloney’s 547 into second place on the club’s all-time list behind Stacey Jones (674). It’s an extraordinary feat considering all Vatuvei’s points are from tries alone.
While there was much to like about the Vodafone Warriors’ attack for much of the first half and in the opening moments of the second, the standout feature for head coach Andrew McFadden was the defence. Afterwards he emphasised the focus in the early part of the season has been on defence; after conceding 24 points against Newcastle, the Vodafone Warriors restricted the Raiders to just six points last week and the Eels to 16, an average of just 11 points a game.
There were just 13 missed tackles against Parramatta, easily the best of the season so far.
With their second win the Vodafone Warriors were briefly fifth on the ladder before they settled at sixth; they’ll remain there if Penrith beats the Sydney Roosters on Monday night.
All interest now turns to one of the biggest occasions of this landmark campaign, the 20th anniversary clash against the Brisbane Broncos next Sunday (2.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone).
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Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 29 (Solomone Kata 2, Ryan Hoffman, Tuimoala Lolohea, Manu Vatuvei tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions, field goal).
Parramatta Eels 16 (Brad Takairangi, David Gower, Reece Robinson tries; Reece Robinson 2 conversions).
Halftime: 22-0 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Ashley Klein and Adam Gee.
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.