NRL ROUND #12 | Another thriller
The Vodafone Warriors clung on in their third desperate winning finish in their last three games to beat Newcastle 24-20 in Saturday's 12th-round #GirlPower NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
The relief was every bit as palpable as it was when Shaun Johnson's magic snared victory against Cronulla and Bodene Thompson provided golden point joy against Parramatta.
The difference this time was the Vodafone Warriors were trying to close out a contest they had led all the way rather than frantically chasing a win.
Nevertheless tension levels still soared in a frenetic final stanza before the home side prevailed for its ninth home win in the last 10 meetings against Newcastle at Mount Smart Stadium.
The Vodafone Warriors had started this encounter well, striking in the opening minutes.
Off a strong Manu Vatuvei carry out of defence and a typically quick play the ball, they went to the right where Bodene Thompson threw in some footwork and shifted to Shaun Johnson on the outside. He exploded down the edge with Sam Tomkins backing up inside and Tuimoala Lolohea outside, going to Lolohea who sped in for his third try of the season. Johnson was on song with the conversion for a 6-0 lead after six minutes.
Six minutes later it was Vatuvei’s turn for more try-scoring glory, climbing to snare a Chad Townsend bomb and shrugging off defenders for his eighth try of the season, now just two short of the unprecedented feat of scoring 10 or more tries in 10 consecutive seasons. It lifted his career tally to 143, one ahead of Steve Renouf and now 14th-equal on the all-time list with the great Johnny King.
Johnson’s conversion was off target and five minutes later the Vodafone Warriors presented the Knights with a way back into the contest when they were outsmarted from a defensive scrum with fullback Dane Gagai slicing through to score. With Tyrone Roberts forced off the field early with a leg injury, Tyler Randell had the kicking duties but his first effort was astray leaving the Vodafone Warriors leading 10-4 after 17 minutes.
After a second would-be Newcastle try soon after was disallowed for an early tackle on Thompson, the Vodafone Warriors immediately struck, prop Ben Matulino over for his second try of the season when he stormed over from close range off a Nathan Friend short ball. Again Johnson missed with the conversion attempt but the Vodafone Warriors had a 14-4 lead after 23 minutes.
It was whittled down to eight points when Newcastle gave Akuila Uate a shot down the right edge, squeezing over in Vatuvei’s tackle to even up the score in the battle of the wingers. Randell couldn’t add the conversion from wide out leaving the score 14-8 after 32 minutes, where it remained until the halftime break.
The second half began outstandingly for the Vodafone Warriors, Solomone Kata carving right past New South Wales back rower Beau Scott and then Gagai for a superb solo effort from 35 metres out, his ninth try of the year (keeping him just ahead of Vatuvei in the club's try-scoring race). Johnson converted for a 20-8 lead.
The brave Knights wouldn't go away, though. They kept hanging tough and eventually found a way back into it again, this time creating room on their left edge for wing James McManus to slide in. With Randell's conversion the game was in the balance again with the Vodafone Warriors leading 20-14.
Anxiety levels eased in the 68th minute when Johnson threaded a beautifully-weighted grubber in behind the defensive line for Jonathan Wright to race onto for a vital try, his fourth of the season. With Johnson's conversion hitting the near upright the lead was 24-14 heading into the last 10 minutes.
By the 75th minute nerves were jangling again, though, with Uate burrowing his way over from dummy half and Randell converting to make the score 24-20.
With two minutes to go the Vodafone Warriors - and the crowd - thought, or hoped, the result had been put beyond doubt when Lolohea skipped, stepped and sped across from a standing start but the try was ruled out on referral for obstruction, fairly so, too.
So it was a penalty to Newcastle with a minute to play.
The Knights threw everything they could into the last furious set, probing and threatening. To the air they went twice, the last one taken by Chad Townsend who gleefully ran over the goal-line and forced the ball to end the contest much to the relief of his team-mates, the coaching staff and the frazzled fans.
This is just the third time since 2011 that the Vodafone Warriors have achieved a run of three or more consecutive wins, all coming in the Origin period of the season; they had five in a row midway through the 2013 campaign and three in a row at a similar stage last year.
The sixth win of the 2015 season lifted the Vodafone Warriors to 14 points and sixth spot on the ladder, pending the outcome of the Roosters-Storm clash on Monday night.
They now prepare for the competition's most challenging away trip to Perth where they'll take on South Sydney next Saturday, their fourth journey to Western Australia in the last four seasons. They have their only training day in Auckland on Tuesday before flying out on Wednesday.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 24 (Tuimoala Lolohea, Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino, Solomone Kata, Jonathan Wright tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions).
Newcastle Knights 20 (Akuila Uate 2, Dane Gagai, James McManus tries; Tyler Randell 2 conversions).
Halftime: 14-8 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Ben Cummins and David Munro.
Vodafone Warriors | Sam Tomkins; Jonathan Wright, Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Ben Matulino, Siliva Havili, Jacob Lillyman; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Nathan Friend, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete.