Five second half tries and 20 points from Shaun Johnson gave the Vodafone Warriors their biggest win of the season when they ran down the Gold Coast Titans 36-14 in Saturday night's 15th-round NRL match at Cbus Super Stadium in Robina.
Johnson scored two tries and had a perfect six from six from the boot to take his career points tally to 511 as the Vodafone Warriors completely dominated the second spell.
In another feature hooker Nathan Friend and second rower Bodene Thompson had the satisfaction of scoring against their former club in a victory which not only snapped a run of two losses on end but also carried the Vodafone Warriors back into the top eight, leap frogging the Titans in the process.
The 30-point haul in the second half came on the back of a patient and composed display as the Vodafone Warriors remained committed to the script required to grind the Titans down, all the more impressive after they had given up 10 points early on.
That followed losing Friend in the opening minute after he wore a high shot from Eddy Pettybourne in just the fifth tackle of the contest. With Friend taken off to be checked for a head knock, Siliva Havili was thrown straight into the fray.
Bringing the ball back strongly out of defence through Ken Maumalo, Manu Vatuvei and Solomone Kata the Vodafone Warriors forced two consecutive goal-line dropouts (and would boost that to six on the night) but couldn’t find points from the repeat sets.
It wasn't an issue for the Titans when they finally had a taste of the ball, resulting in them putting on tries for Josh Hoffman and Lachlan Burr in a matter of minutes.
Right centre James Roberts was shut out on his edge so he shot out across field to the left, creating space for new recruit Nene Macdonald to set up Hoffman for the opening try. Aidan Sezer’s conversion was wide to leave the score 4-0 after 13 minutes.
From the restart Gold Coast was quickly back applying heat, immediately forcing a goal-line dropout. It was the cue for Origin prop Jacob Lillyman to be thrown into service for the Vodafone Warriors but the Titans were again looking likely, short passing in front of the posts giving Burr a try under the bar, Sezer the conversion and Gold Coast a 10-0 lead.
At 0-10 the Vodafone Warriors had some work to do but they remained patient and the reward duly came when Friend was offered a huge hole to run through from dummy half for his try, Johnson converting to close it up to 6-10.
It ought to have become 12-10 soon after and would have been cause for huge celebration. Prop Charlie Gubb had the line at his mercy for his first NRL try but Gold Coast's defensive desperation stopped him getting the ball to the line (when both he and referee Matt Cecchin thought he had).
The setback almost ended with the worst possible result when the Titans headed back down the other end, Macdonald set to score but losing control close to the line.
The Vodafone Warriors survived to trail 6-10 at the break but then opened the second half indifferently by giving up back-to-back penalties to put themselves under the pump again. They were equal to it, though, forcing a Titans error and relief.
Relief almost became points again as the Vodafone Warriors maintained their composure, intent on building pressure. Hurtling onto another short ball, Gubb’s eyes lit up once more with the line there – only to be halted again.
Another setback hurt them with rookie winger Maumalo forced off the field with what appeared to be an ankle injury causing a backline reshuffle which saw Konrad Hurrell head onto the right wing.
It didn’t deter the Vodafone Warriors. They stayed true to their game plan and structures.
In the 51st minute they set up for their right edge, Johnson and Tomkins linking with the latter delaying his pass beautifully for rookie back rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner to power over for his first NRL try.
And five minutes later off loads from Ben Matulino and Simon Mannering gave Johnson the chance to turn on his footwork show for another special sidestepping try. He converted both and in the opening 16 minutes the Vodafone Warriors had turned a 6-10 deficit into an 18-10 lead.
In the 63rd minute that advantage became 14 points – 24-10 – when the Vodafone Warriors again used their right side, Tomkins swinging a long pass to Johnson who sized it up perfectly. He nudged through a sweet grubber for Hurrell to race onto for his 39th career try. Johnson’s conversion was on target again and two competitions points seemed reasonably secure.
They should have been until the Titans were awarded a try which patently shouldn’t have been given.
Pettybourne was well offside when he picked up a Vodafone Warriors off load which ended in Roberts going over. Cecchin ruled no try but somehow from somewhere the video referee ruled it was. The Vodafone Warriors had every right to be incredulous. Everyone else was.
It gave the Titans an undeserved glimmer of hope with eight minutes to play but fortunately it was no more than a glimmer as the Vodafone Warriors went about finishing the match in a ruthless fashion.
The second half had been all about choking the life out of Gold Coast. The manifestation of the clinical approach became fully apparent in the space of two minutes as first Thompson scored and then Johnson snared his second. Johnson’s grubber cannoned off two Titans defenders into Thompson’s hands for his touchdown and the final scoring act provided another graphic illustration of Johnson’s powers. From an attacking scrum, he took the ball at first receiver and then just exploded on one of his mesmerising runs across the defensive line, prising it open and exploding through a gap for his 42nd career try.
While the Vodafone Warriors’ left edge has been a dominant attacking force throughout the season, all the action was on the right this time with all six tries coming in that direction – and Johnson had a hand in five of them. He was irresistible while his kicking game was right on point.
Coming out of his Origin outing, Lillyman was exceptional carrying the ball 20 times, making 204 metres and also 29 tackles without a miss. Matulino made 222 metres from 21 runs with 18 tackles.
Tomkins’ presence alone made a palpable difference, as it was expected it would. He provided a sense of order and calm throughout as well as adding a dimension to the Vodafone Warriors’ attack with his ability to link up on each side of the park with halves Johnson and Chad Townsend.
The unlucky Gubb was all aggression and energy in all he did as was Faitala-Mariner in just his third NRL outing. At the back Manu Vatuvei claimed 139 metres from 17 selfless and whole-hearted runs but it wasn’t a night for scoring opportunities on his side of the field.
Key to the performance was the Vodafone Warriors’ completion rate and defence. Making just six errors, they completed 33 of 40 sets to Gold Coast’s 24 from 32 and everything flowed off that. The total metres gained favoured them 1788-1211, total runs 188-140, line breaks 5-3; they made just 278 tackles to Gold Coast’s 362 and missed only 23 tackles to the Titans’ 32.
Now the Vodafone Warriors look forward to the club’s #OnesieParty night when they meet Canberra next Saturday (5.00pm kick-off). The Raiders lost 20-21 at the death to competition leader North Queensland on Saturday to fall out of the top eight.
Match details | Cbus Super Stadium, Robina
Gold Coast Titans 14 (Josh Hoffman, Lachlan Burr, James Roberts tries; Aidan Sezer conversion).
Vodafone Warriors 36 (Shaun Johnson 2, Nathan Friend, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Konrad Hurrell, Bodene Thompson tries; Shaun Johnson 6 conversions).
Halftime: 10-6 Titans.
Referees: Matt Cecchin and Gavin Reynolds.
Vodafone Warriors | Sam Tomkins; Ken Maumalo, Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Ben Matulino, Nathan Friend, Sebastine Ikahihifo; Bodene Thompson, Raymond Faitala-Mariner; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Ryan Hoffman, Siliva Havili, Sebastine Ikahihifo.