Two show-stopping tries from man of the moment Manu Vatuvei helped to give the Vodafone Warriors a memorable 32-22 win over Wests Tigers in tonight’s sixth-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
After all the pre-game fanfare for Vatuvei the script initially went well with the Vodafone Warriors putting together some solid sets in possession but it went off course in the sixth minute when the Tigers opened the defence up in the middle for Tim Simona to score. Pat Richards nailed the conversion and at 0-6 the home side had some work to do.
The response came when the Vodafone Warriors were able to build some pressure on the back of their first penalty of the night.
After trying aerial bombardment towards Vatuvei’s edge in the early phase the Vodafone Warriors went through the hands, Chad Townsend linking with Tuimoala Lolohea who floated a pass wide to The Beast (as he had in Melbourne).
It produced the same result. The big man drove over with two men on him confident he’d put the ball down in time – and brought the house down.
Referee Gavin Badger wasn’t so sure but after looking at several replays the video referees awarded it and the crowd went wild again chanting the call of the night: ‘Feed the Beast’.
Nothing could have been better than Vatuvei having a try on his night of nights, the 139th of his career leaving him only one short of equalling Nigel Vagana’s record for the most tries by a New Zealander in the competition.
Shaun Johnson’s conversion attempt from the touchline was wide to the left but the Vodafone Warriors had their teeth in the contest.
That try was scored in the 16th minute. By the 29th minute the Vodafone Warriors had three more as some of the team’s big threats lit up.
In the 21st minute Townsend dummied inside and instead found a saloon passage to the line for his second try of the season. It was 10-6 with Johnson’s conversion from in front.
Three minutes later it was 16-6 as the Vodafone Warriors hit the right with Johnson teasing the defence. He dropped off to Konrad Hurrell, the centre exploding on one of his trademark powerhouse charges, finding Lolohea on his left shoulder and scoring between the posts.
The surge of scoring continued in the 29th minute, the damage again coming through the right. A pass hit the ground, Johnson was on it, standing the defence up as he dummied and sped through for his first try of the season. He couldn’t convert from an acute angle but the lead was a handy 20-6 with 10 minutes remaining in the half.
There was a lapse before halftime, though, when the Tigers penetrated for James Tedesco to score, Richards adding the extras and the difference was down to eight points at the break.
It was down to two points 11 minutes into the second half when Simona breached the defence for his second try. At 20-18 the nerves were jangling again not helped at all by some penalties and errors which ensured the Tigers were able to apply plenty of heat.
Into the last 16 minutes the advantage was still only two points.
All the possession statistics were in the Vodafone Warriors' favour but the advantage wasn't showing on the scoreboard.
At last in the 70th minute some joy as the attack went left, Johnson significantly flashing up wide on the outside, shifting to Solomone Kata who rolled a a one-handed overhead pass for who else but The Beast. He careered over for try No 140 to equal Vagana's record and Johnson made the margin eight points with the conversion.
The Tigers weren't going to disappear. Another error bringing the ball out of defence gave them the sniff they needed and all too soon they created room for Richards to score wide out. The conversion missed but it was just 26-22 with five minutes still to play. Time for the nerves to kick in again.
In the 78th minute they had all disappeared. Up went a bomb, Ben Matulino contested, batting it back for Bodene Thompson to collect for his first try for the club (although one which was awarded only after lengthy deliberation by the video referees).
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 32 (Manu Vatuvei 2, Chad Townsend, Tuimoala Lolohea, Shaun Johnson, Bodene Thompson tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions).
Wests Tigers 22 (Tim Simona 2, James Tedesco, Pat Richards tries; Pat Richards 3 conversions).
Halftime: 20-12 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Gavin Badger and Chris Sutton.
Vodafone Warriors | Tuimoala Lolohea; Jonathan Wright, Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Thomas Leuluai, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Nathan Friend, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete, Dominique Peyroux.