A severely depleted Vodafone Junior Warriors side put up a brave performance before losing 16-24 to Canberra in today's 16th-round NYC clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
Coach Kelvin Wright was forced to field a squad without most of his experienced players with Bunty Afoa, Paul Ulberg and Brad Abbey the only ones with 20 or more appearances while the bulk had played fewer than 10 NYC games.
Included in the 17 was debutant forward Casey Lafaele who had barely trained with the side.
There was an understandable lack of cohesion and evident nerves from the outset as Canberra scored twice in the opening five minutes and then had two more tries inside the first quarter to hold an ominous 20-0 lead.
Gradually the Vodafone Junior Warriors began to work their way into the contest although it took time for the rewards to show on the scoreboard.
Four minutes out from halftime they found some deserved joy when Ulberg, shifted into the centres in the reshuffled line-up, shook off his marker to score his sixth try of the season. With halfback Mikaere Beattie converting from a handy angle the Vodafone Junior Warriors went to the break in a more buoyant mood.
Straight after halftime they were right back in it when giant second rower Koli Oneone pulled down an Erin Clark chip for his fourth try in six appearances. Beattie’s conversion had them just eight points adrift and with plenty of reason for optimism.
Over the next 25 minutes they had the better of the exchanges, hooker Chris Sio sniping effectively from dummy half and the big men rolling their sleeves up carting the ball forward effectively up the middle.
While they went close to scoring again they couldn’t quite execute, going into the last eight minutes still down 12-20.
Having fought so determinedly to come back into the game it was a huge disappointment when the Raiders opened up to 24-12 with Jack Hickson’s 72nd minute effort.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors weren’t done, though, aiming up to the end and laying on a nice try for the prolific Tomas Aoake in the final few minutes. It was his 15th try in 15 games this year.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 16 (Paul Ulberg, Koli Oneone, Tomas Aoake tries; Mikaere Beattie 2 conversions)
Canberra Raiders 24 (Kalani Going 3, Lachlan Hurst, Jack Hickson tries; Zac Woolford 2 conversions).
Halftime: 20-6 Raiders.
Referees: Jon Stone and Phil Henderson.
Vodafone Junior Warriors: Brad Abbey; Lewis Soosemea, Junior Pauga, Paul Ulberg, Tomas Aoake (c); Mikaere Beattie, Erin Clark; Bunty Afoa (c), Chris Sio, Paul Tuli; Amoni Tufui, Koli Oneone; Joseph Price. Interchange: Tualima Tualima, Casey Lafaele, Isaiah Cooper-Tetevano, Roman Tuhimata.