A late 14-point rally catapulted the Vodafone Warriors to an 18-16 win over North Sydney in their fourth-round New South Wales Cup game at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday.
The victory, the third in four starts, lifted the Vodafone Warriors into second place on the ladder, two points behind the unbeaten Mounties.
The success came at a cost, though, with George Carmont forced off the field in the first half with a knee injury; it was the 36-year-old former Newcastle and Wigan centre’s third match back.
Earlier Paul Ulberg, promoted from the Vodafone Junior Warriors to make his NSW Cup debut, had opened the scoring before the Bears drew level to have the teams locked at 4-4 going into the halftime break.
The Vodafone Warriors had dominated the contest to that point but were left frustrated at they failed to convert opportunities.
For all that, the unheralded Bears, coming off heavy losses to Penrith and Illawarra, hung in well and then put themselves in a position to spring a huge surprise as they scored two tries to take a 16-4 lead.
There the score stayed as the Vodafone Warriors continued to battle to find their rhythm but then standoff Api Pewhairangi scored and soon after wing Saula Solomona added a third try. With Pewhairangi converting his own try the Vodafone Warriors were only just behind 14-16 with time enough to win it – and they did.
First Pewhairangi kicked a penalty to level it up 16-16 and then, in the final minute, he had another penalty in front to win it.
This was one to stow away in the ‘win is a win’ category for it was generally accepted the Vodafone Warriors were some way short of their own standards.
For all that, their ability to grind it out, to check North Sydney’s scoring and then to both create a winning opportunity and take it was impressive.
They now sit on six points in a competition in which only three teams have a record of three wins or better after the opening four rounds.
After their last two matches at home, the Vodafone Warriors are back on the road when they meet fourth-placed Wyong next Sunday.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 18 (Paul Ulberg, Api Pewhairangi, Saula Solomona tries; Api Pewhairangi conversion, 2 penalties).
North Sydney Bears 16 (Aaron Gray 2, Jack Gosiewski tries; Nikko Roberts 2 conversions).
Referee: Jamal Thompson.
Vodafone Warriors: Simon Luafalealo; Saula Solomona, Ngani Laumape, George Carmont, Paul Ulberg; Api Pewhairangi, Sam Cook; Suaia Matagi, Siliva Havili, Sebastine Ikahihifo; Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Sione Lousi; John Palavi (c). Interchange: David Bhana, Charlie Gubb, Nathaniel Peteru, James Bell.