Second rower Bodene Thompson surged across in the 85th minute to give the Vodafone Warriors a courageous and famous 17-13 golden point win over Parramatta in the club’s landmark 500th match today.
The 10th-round victory at Pirtek Stadium was the 234th in the club’s history, adding further lustre to its 20th anniversary season.
It was also the Vodafone Warriors’ second show-stopping triumph in seven days after their astonishing last-gasp 20-16 success against Cronulla, rounding off an unforgettable three weeks for rugby league in New Zealand kick-started by the Kiwis’ dismantling of the Kangaroos in the Anzac Test (and this week’s recognition as the game’s No 1 nation).
Last week Shaun Johnson provided two magic plays to steal a dramatic fourth win of the season for the Vodafone Warriors while today’s win ranks among the most heroic in the club’s history, arguably the most heroic. Seldom have the Vodafone Warriors been more courageous in the face of such seemingly insurmountable odds.
They had gone into the match without their spiritual strength in wing Manu Vatuvei as well as the suspended Konrad Hurrell and then, in just the third minute, they lost inspirational second rower Ryan Hoffman with concussion after ball-carrying Parramatta hooker Nathan Peats appeared to drive his head into Hoffman’s in a back-slamming collision. Hoffman was gone for the match, his team down to three on the bench with 77 minutes to play (or 82 minutes as it turned out).
And a concerning situation became acute in the 23rd minute when the Vodafone Warriors also had hooker Thomas Leuluai taken from the field with a knee injury. Now they were down to two men on the interchange with 57 minutes of regulation time still left.
With their bench rotation severely affected the Vodafone Warriors would need – and would find – enormous reservoirs of sheer will and defensive steel to just stay in the contest, let alone win it.
Before Thompson struck with his try, heavily scrutinised by the video referees, the Vodafone Warriors had surrendered a 12-0 lead by allowing Parramatta to score three unconverted tries to draw level at 12-12 with 18 minutes to play.
They had to dig deeper than they have this season just to hold the Eels out and then found joy by giving Chad Townsend the chance to put them 13-12 ahead with a well-taken field goal in the 74th minute.
Minutes later the lead had gone, the scores locked at 13-13 after Parramatta’s Luke Kelly replied with a field goal of his own to take the game to golden point. Some judges may well have questioned whether the Vodafone Warriors had enough petrol to survive extra time but they galvanized themselves.
Johnson had a field goal shot to win it but the attempt was deflected, handing the Vodafone Warriors a repeat set. There was a scramble to set up for another field goal in the final moments of the first phase of extra time but instead Thompson found himself with the ball. He set himself for the line, taking defenders with him to get the ball down for a try which sent the Vodafone Warriors and their fans in attendance into instant delirium – followed by a repeat dose when the try was rubber-stamped by the video referees.
Back-to-back wins on the road aren’t too common for the Vodafone Warriors; putting together two on end in Sydney is rarer still but the net effect of the two nail-biters is that they go into their first bye round with a five wins-five losses record. The victory left them in eighth spot although they could actually finish the round outside the top eight depending on the outcome of other matches. More importantly, the Vodafone Warriors are where they wanted to be for a week off before returning home at last to face Newcastle at Mount Smart Stadium on May 31.
The day began with 20-year-old Ken Maumalo being handed his NRL debut as Vodafone Warrior No 201.
While head coach Andrew McFadden had rated Vatuvei a 50-50 chance of playing earlier in the week the try-scoring record holder was ultimately unable to recover sufficiently.
Maumalo, who ought to have made his debut in the opening round of the season, was quickly into the action with the first of his 14 runs which would deliver more than 120 metres.
Not anticipated or wanted so early in the match was the sight of Sione Lousi out on the field in just the third minute for his first game this season replacing Hoffman.
If it was disruptive for the Vodafone Warriors it wasn’t immediately evident as they earned repeat sets on two occasions through nicely-judged kicks by Townsend and Johnson.
Too quickly the patient work was followed by two handling errors which gifted the Eels both possession and field position, the second of which might well have ended in a try for Semi Radradra but for a breakdown between him and centre Brad Takairangi.
With their bench rotation affected by Hoffman’s early departure, the Vodafone Warriors had to get into the grind but they were again guilty of turning over possession as they were building. The Eels were similarly guilty giving the Vodafone Warriors the ball 40 metres from their line and then compounding the damage by conceding a penalty.
From the repeat set Johnson dropped a last tackle bomb on the Eels. They handled it and swept downfield to put up a bomb for Radradra which he knocked on.
From the next set, it was time for the magic man Johnson to make an early impact rather than showing off his tricks in the last few minutes, as he did against Cronulla last week.
First he flicked a lovely ball to the 100-game man Jonathan Wright on the right-hand touch-line. Cramped for room Wright rolled a low kick infield, the ball bouncing up for Johnson. He pulled it in one-handed and then mesmerised four defenders on a stepping run for another spectacular try. With the conversion the Vodafone Warriors were 6-0 up after 21 minutes.
The attrition rate in the game was a serious concern. After the Vodafone Warriors had Hoffman ruled out, Parramatta captain Tim Mannah also had to leave the field to have a head knock assessed. He was cleared to return, although the Eels would later lose interchange hooker Isaac de Gois.
When Leuluai was invalided out of the game, Nathan Friend was thrust into his longest shift of the season so far.
While the Vodafone Warriors were on personnel they weren’t lacking intent. They hit the right edge with nice hands to give Thompson some space. When he was roped in they went swiftly to their left where Johnson and Townsend worked together, the latter shipping a superb ball to put Solomone Kata outside Will Hopoate. The Tongan rocket flew away with Maumalo outside him, going all the way for his eighth try of the season to make him the club’s top try scorer so far. Johnson’s conversion attempt from the opposite touchline was again brilliant to make it 12-0 after 30 minutes.
Ball security was found wanting soon after, though, to give the Eels another shot at their first try of the day but the Vodafone Warriors’ forced an error with their committed defence.
Their response from deep defence was outstanding. Johnson punched in a fantastic kick and the chase was even better as Thompson, Dominique Peyroux and Wright rounded up Radradra and drove him back for a goal-line dropout.
It should have resulted in a fourth try in four games for Wright as Johnson teased the Eels’ defence and threw out a wide pass to his winger. However, Wright couldn’t gather in the pass and the chance was lost.
The second half opened with a solid first set in possession but Parramatta’s first turn with the ball immediately provided fruit, a last tackle bomb spilled near the line with Anthony Watmough – who appeared to be fractionally in front of the kicker – collecting the loose ball for a try. Kelly’s conversion was poor leaving the Vodafone Warriors 12-4 ahead.
Off the back of the try the tone of the contest immediately changed with Parramatta picking up back-to-back penalties and profiting by putting Radradra over for yet another try.
In a matter of minutes the Eels had pulled back to 8-12 although Kelly again missed the conversion attempt.
Under the pump, the Vodafone Warriors put more pressure on themselves with another error and again faced a shift of defending their line. They needed inspiration and it came as a posse of players rounded up Reece Robinson and took him into touch.
The pressure kept mounting, though. More defence and more heat from Parramatta and it all began to tell, the Eels going left again to give Radradra room once again to score in the left-hand corner. More inspiration was provided and again it came from Tuimoala Lolohea who pushed out hard to force Radradra to step on the touchline as he was about to put the ball down. No try and more breathing space.
A stint on attack threatened to deliver some joy for the Vodafone Warriors but they couldn’t make it work, a last tackle kick defused and the Eels using the resulting seven-tackle set to go to their right for wing Ryan Morgan to score. Kelly was off target with the conversion again and it was 12-12 with 16 minutes to play.
The Vodafone Warriors were desperate for a share of possession but were finding little relief.
Finally in the latter stages they had possession and position to allow Townsend to put the Vodafone Warriors 13-12 ahead with six minutes to play. The lead was short-lived with Kelly reciprocating to make it 13-13 to take the match into extra time.
Enter Thompson to give the Vodafone Warriors one of the grittiest wins of the season so far. All the key stats underlined how well they had performed completing 32 of 42 sets, missing only 13 tackles and reducing their error count to a more acceptable nine. Above all they had restricted a team to minimal points for the second game running. Having allowed Gold Coast to heap on 32 points on Anzac Day they kept Cronulla to 16 last week and Parramatta to only 13 today.
The Vodafone Warriors expect to have Sam Tomkins back from a long lay-off on May 31 while it’s also hoped Vatuvei will be back then. Hoffman should recover by then as well but the initial outlook isn’t promising for Leuluai.
Match details | Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta
Parramatta Eels 13 (Anthony Watmough, Semi Radradra, Ryan Morgan tries; Luke Kelly field goal).
Vodafone Warriors 17 (Shaun Johnson, Solomone Kata, Bodene Thompson tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions; Chad Townsend field goal).
Halftime: 12-0 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Grant Atkins and Gavin Reynolds.
Vodafone Warriors | Tuimoala Lolohea; Jonathan Wright, Dominique Peyroux, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Ben Matulino, Thomas Leuluai, Jacob Lillyman; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Nathan Friend, Sione Lousi, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete.