The Vodafone Warriors moved up to third on the ladder when they came back superbly from a 4-16 halftime deficit to beat the Newcastle Knights 28-22 in today’s 12th-round New South Wales Cup encounter at Mount Smart Stadium.
After conceding 16 unanswered points in the last 25 minutes of the first half, the Vodafone Warriors produced an explosive opening 10 minutes in the second half by scoring 16 points of their own to leap to a 20-16 lead.
They extended to a 24-16 lead but had to withstand a frantic final stanza before emerging with their seventh win of the campaign to sit two points behind the top two sides Penrith and the Mounties.
The Vodafone Warriors also had to overcome adversity before achieving their fifth straight win at home, being reduced to 16 players when they lost young prop Toafofoa Sipley early in the contest.
The 20-year-old’s NSW Cup debut ended in huge disappointment when he was helped off the field after just 10 minutes with a knee injury.
The stoppage for Sipley’s injury had a positive result, though, as the Vodafone Warriors struck from the resulting penalty awarded for a strip on Sipley.
Going to the right, halfback Mason Lino served up a lovely ball for Raymond Faitala-Mariner to surge onto for an 11th minute try. Lino’s conversion from a handy position was wide.
Less than six minutes later the Knights were on even terms as they profited from repeat sets near the Vodafone Warriors’ line. Keeping the ball alive, they created room on their left for wing Honeti Tuha to score an unconverted try wide out.
The score remained locked at 4-4 until the 31st minute when the Knights won the contest for a last tackle kick, flipped out a couple of great off loads and found centre Chanel Mata’utia unmarked to score in the corner. This time Kerrod Holland was on target with the conversion to give the Knights a 10-4 lead.
It became 16-4 five minutes later when interchange forward Jake Finn got the ball down with two defenders on him, Holland again providing the extras.
Right on halftime the Vodafone Warriors bombed a try which could have dragged them back to 10-16 at the break. Api Pewhairangi broke clear but interchange forward Paki Afu couldn’t drag in the final pass with the line in front of him.
If the Vodafone Warriors’ performance was off the mark through much of the first half they could scarcely have been more impressive in the opening 10 minutes of the second spell.
The big man Faitala-Mariner was inspirational with a massive bust up the middle finishing up on the left with wing Ken Maumalo scoring wide out.
Almost immediately they were in again as Faitala-Mariner powered over for his second try to bring the margin back to 14-16 in a blink.
The blitz wasn’t over as the Vodafone Warriors, with a mortgage on possession, kept the foot down and struck again with great hands to the right putting right wing Paul Ulberg clear for a try Lino converted to put the side 20-16 in front.
It took a while for a follow-up but sustained pressure brought a reward as the Vodafone Warriors penetrated down their left edge, fullback Sam Cook driving through to score wide out. Lino couldn’t convert but the Vodafone Warriors had an important eight-point lead at 24-16.
Inside the final stages the Knights had a chance of stealing victory when a converted Jaelen Feeney try left them just 22-24 behind. They pushed a kick in-goal seeking a repeat set but Lino cleaned up and ignited a fantastic set.
First he broke up-field before Maumalo’s strong run and off load released Ulberg on a long break down the right. Moments later centre Viliami Kaveinga stole across from dummy half but Lino couldn’t convert leaving his side six points ahead with three minutes to go.
With a minute to go Lino was wide with a field goal attempt giving Newcastle a seven-tackle set and another chance to steal victory. They went close in the final seconds but desperate defence from Maumalo shut down the danger to secure victory.
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 28 (Raymond Faitala-Mariner 2, Ken Maumalo, Paul Ulberg, Sam Cook, Viliami Kaveinga tries; Mason Lino 2 conversions).
Newcastle Knights 22 (Honeti Tuha, Chanel Mata’utia, Jake Finn, Jaelen Feeney tries; Kerrod Holland 3 conversions).
Halftime: 16-4 Knights.
Referee: Jamal Thompson
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Cook; Paul Ulberg, Arden McCarthy, David Fusitu’a, Paul Ulberg; Api Pewhairangi, Mason Lino; Toafofoa Sipley, Zac Tippins, Nathaniel Peteru; Dominique Peyroux, Raymond Faitala-Mariner; Charlie Gubb (c). Interchange: David Bhana (c), Paki Afu, Stedman Lefau, James Bell.