Razzle-dazzle football punctuated a pulsating Anzac Day clash as the Gold Coast Titans held on to beat a late-finishing Vodafone Warriors side 32-28 in today’s eighth-round Anzac Day NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
It was set up for an occasion to remember starting with the Anzac Day ceremony preceding the game.
The quality continued with the football, the Vodafone Warriors making a slick opening statement with Shaun Johnson giving comeback man David Fusitu’a an opening with his first touch. The 20-year-old scythed through impressively for his eighth career try in the second minute of the match, Johnson’s conversion on the mark, too.
The Titans returned serve 10 minutes later with a smart try of their own, halfback Kane Elgey running off Ryan James from close range.
All locked up at 6-6, the Vodafone Warriors had the next say just four minutes later in what was becoming a tit-for-tat first half.
With Jacob Lillyman playing the ball quickly, Thomas Leuluai bounced out of dummy half on a run-around with Simon Mannering and then shipped a flat short ball to Ben Matulino for the big man to score his first try of the season. Johnson converted from in front for a 12-6 lead after 16 minutes.
On the 30-minute mark the Titans were over again. Manu Vatuvei had made a fearsome hit coming off his wing to stop a Gold Coast foray but when the Titans went back to their left edge they engineered room for Anthony Don to go over wide out, Aidan Sezer converting splendidly to make it 12-12.
Six minutes later the Vodafone Warriors were back in front. Jonathan Wright carried the ball strongly up the middle from his 20, played it quickly and replacement hooker Nathan Friend made the most of it. He split the line, drew the defence and there staying alive from the play the ball was Wright for a 20-metre dash for his second try in as many games.
Johnson’s three from three had the Vodafone Warriors 18-12 ahead at the break.
The use-the-football theme was prevalent in the opening moments of the second half.
The Vodafone Warriors made inroads but the Titans then had a 20-metre tap, David Mead blasting away 70 metres downfield with a try beckoning until Tuimoala Lolohea heroically took him into touch just short of the corner.
Having dodged that bullet the Vodafone Warriors suffered a major setback when Ryan Hoffman was hit high by Greg Bird. Hoffman was knocked out, Bird put on report but the home side had its resources significantly reduced, forced to battle on with 16 players.
With their ability to shift the ball swiftly side to side, the Titans were stretching the Vodafone Warriors.
They went to a short side off a quick play the ball and Kierran Moseley cut through for a try to leave the Titans 16-18 behind. Sezer couldn’t convert but in no time Gold Coast was ahead 20-18 when a bomb was tapped back for James Roberts to go over.
In the 62nd minute Roberts was the provider as he got on the outside and found support inside for Elgey to bag his second try. Sezer’s conversion had the Titans out to a 26-18 lead and soon it was 32-18 after James ran into a hole.
A tough second half for the home side became more challenging in the 70th minute when Fusitu'a was stretchered off after a heavy tackle left him prone.
After a long hold-up, the Vodafone Warriors gave themselves just a glimmer of hope when Vatuvei climbed for a Chad Townsend bomb, flapped it back inside and Solomone Kata had the touchdown. At 22-32, there was still time.
A dramatic win became a real possibility when Bodene Thompson blasted over in the 77th minute and Johnson converted to leave his side 28-32 behind with two minutes to play.
It was all on, Townsend threatening on one play but the Titans held on for a four-point win to leave the Vodafone Warriors with a three wins-five losses record after eight rounds.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 28 (David Fusitu’a, Ben Matulino, Jonathan Wright, Solomone Kata, Bodene Thompson tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions).
Gold Coast Titans 32 (Kane Elgey 2, Anthony Don, Kierran Moseley, James Roberts, Ryan James tries; Aidan Sezer 4 conversions).
Halftime: 18-12 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Gavin Morris and David Munro.
Vodafone Warriors | Tuimoala Lolohea; Jonathan Wright, David Fusitu’a, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Thomas Leuluai, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Nathan Friend, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Sam Lisone, Sam Rapira.