A dominant second half display gave the Vodafone Warriors one of their best wins of the season when they beat Canberra 30-8 in Saturday night's 16th-round #OnesieParty NRL game at Mount Smart Stadium.
After leading 14-8 at halftime, the home side again adhered to their game plan to score three more tries to move up to 18 points on the ladder, still holding seventh spot, with the second bye of the season coming up next weekend.
There was no repeat of the slow start against Gold Coast last week when the Vodafone Warriors were 0-10 down in the opening stanza. Instead they set the tempo and went about engaging in the grind from the opening set on a night when the club celebrated Jacob Lillyman's 200th NRL appearance and Bodene Thompson's 100th.
The first sign of scoreboard success came in the 11th minute when Konrad Hurrell ran a decoy with Shaun Johnson sending the ball out the back to Bodene Thompson who had the Canberra defensive line on the back foot as he ran and ran to score his fifth try of the season. It was the ideal start to his 100th NRL game topped by Johnson’s superb sideline conversion for a 6-0 lead.
As they did against the Titans last week, the Vodafone Warriors were playing patiently and showing a real desire to build pressure. The Raiders absorbed it, though, and then broke the shackles 18 minutes in, earning a penalty coming out of their end and then another penalty just short of the Vodafone Warriors’ line. It was the only invitation they needed as Iosia Soliola’s slick inside ball gave fullback Jack Wighton a passage to the line, Jarrod Crocker converting to make it 6-6 after 21 minutes.
It provided the Raiders with an opportunity to tip the momentum their way although, when they were awarded another penalty, they opted for the two rather than a repeat set to take an 8-6 lead after 27 minutes.
It was a moot point whether it was the best option. It certainly suited the Vodafone Warriors as they thundered back with a great set out of defence ending with Sam Tomkins serving up a lovely pass to Hurrell. He powered up, trampling over the hapless Jarrod Crocker and then popped a fantastic off load for Tuimoala Lolohea to score his fifth try of the season, Johnson converting to have the home side in front 12-8 after 31 minutes.
The Vodafone Warriors were proving as adept at forcing goal-line dropouts as they had been against the Titans last week, deft kicks leading to Canberra restarting from under their posts three times in the first half (with a fourth being engineered in the second half).
From the third of them right on halftime, a niggly Canberra side conceded its seventh penalty of the first spell. There was no choice but to take a shot at goal, Johnson obliging to have the Vodafone Warriors 14-8 ahead at the break.
It was no surprise the penalty count should favour the Vodafone Warriors so decisively 7-3 in the first 40 minutes; the further the half went, the more intent Canberra seemed to be on indulging in borderline tactics designed to ignite shape-ups.
The count became 8-3 the home side's way in the opening moments of the second half as the Raiders offended yet again. The Vodafone Warriors so very nearly extracted full value from the opportunity, too, with the big man Manu Vatuvei a millimetre or two away from scoring what would have been the most wondrous of tries, even by his standards.
Just minutes later Johnson, at his mesmerising best, made a nonsense of Canberra's left edge defence as he stepped this way and that for his third try in two games - and converted from well out as well to stretch the lead to 20-8.
In the 50th minute Johnson's sweetly-weighted grubber to Canberra's in-goal had Lolohea racing through to pounce on the ball for his second try of the night to take the advantage out to 24-8.
As the contest reached the end of the third quarter the Vodafone Warriors, protecting their 16-point lead, were playing controlled football, dominating possession and field position. They looked composed.
The key statistics were well in their favour, most notably and critically possession which showed the Vodafone Warriors had completed 32 of 38 sets to that point and made more than 1700 metres. Nine players had made 100-plus metres with Ben Matulino topping 180 and Vatuvei almost 170.
And it was Vatuvei who fittingly had the final say after another whole-hearted effort when an errant Sam Williams pass gifted him his 11th try of the season in the 76th minute. It edged him ever closer to 150 career tries, his tally now 146 from 208 matches. It extended a freakish scoring sequence for Vatuvei against the Raiders, one which has seen him score a total of 14 tries in his last seven games against them including two hat-tricks.
With the conversion Johnson finished with 14 points after bagging 20 against the Titans last week. He has also made a speciality of producing points against the Raiders with 76 in his last five games including seven tries.
With back-to-back victories founded on composed football, the Vodafone Warriors head into the bye in soundf shape with an 8-7 record sitting just two points outside the top four.
In amassing 66 points and conceding only 22 they've also significantly improved their points for and against differential, boosting it to plus 13 points. Especially pleasing was the defensive effort against the Raiders, limiting the competition's second-best points-scoring side to just one try and a total of eight points; indeed they kept them scoreless after Croker's 27th-minute penalty.
After this week's bye, ther Vodafone Warriors are back in business continuing a phase in the competition which features five home games out of six - the Raiders on Saturday, the Storm on July 12, the Sea Eagles on July 25, the Sharks in round 21 and the Dragons in round 22 (although that game will be played in Wellington).
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 30 (Tuimoala Lolohea 2, Bodene Thompson, Shaun Johnson, Manu Vatuvei tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions, penalty).
Canberra Raiders 8 (Jack Wighton try; Jarrod Croker conversion, penalty).
Halftime: 14-8 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Gerard Sutton and Chris Butler.
Vodafone Warriors | Sam Tomkins; Tuimoala Lolohea, Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Ben Matulino, Nathan Friend, Jacob Lillyman; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Siliva Havili, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Charlie Gubb, Albert Vete.