The Vodafone Warriors moved to fourth on the ladder as well as regaining the Michael Moore Trophy with their superb 28-14 win over Melbourne in today's 18th-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
In completing their third straight win the Vodafone Warriors moved to 22 points with a 9-7 win-loss record while also handing Melbourne a fourth loss on end.
The 14-point win was a record margin in 17 encounters with the Storm at Mount Smart Stadium; the previous best was 10 points when they won 20-10 in 2002. In 36 matches overall the Vodafone Warriors have now won 16, drawn two and lost 18.
In an impressive first half display, the Vodafone Warriors defended their line superbly while also creating three tries in what was one of the most critical contests of their 2015 campaign.
Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk was right on song from the outset, going for a 40-20 on an early tackle in the very first set of the match and getting it. The Vodafone Warriors needed to show their defensive mettle from the repeat set and they did, Tuimoala Lolohea doing a terrific job to stop left wing Marika Koroibete scoring in the corner.
In the eighth minute the Vodafone Warriors were the first to get across the line. Shaun Johnson’s no-look pass bounced off Raymond Faitala-Mariner’s shoulder but the second rower stayed alive to claim the ball and dot it down. It was referred upstairs as a try but on inspection the video referees rubbed it out, ruling a knock-on after finding the ball had first been touched by Melbourne Storm fullback Cameron Munster.
The Vodafone Warriors stayed on task and came back immediately with another shot. It was an exquisite piece of play, Nathan Friend springing out to the short side, linking with Johnson who put centre David Fusitu’a through a hole. Fusitu’a dummied and delayed his pass sweetly for right wing Tuimoala Lolohea to race 40 metres for his seventh try of the season. Johnson’s conversion was wide leaving the Vodafone Warriors 4-0 ahead.
Melbourne came close to a reply minutes later, a Cronk bomb plucked by right wing Richard Kinnar who surged across the line but was denied first by Jonathan Wright and then Sam Tomkins as he tried to get the ball down.
Twice the Vodafone Warriors’ defensive attitude and execution had answered the call and there was reward at the other end soon after.
Having enjoyed a lot of time in Melbourne’s red zone throughout the half, the Vodafone Warriors had great shape on the right again with fullback Sam Tomkins providing the extra man to send Fusitu’a to the corner. In his second appearance of the season he had his second try, expertly flying through the air to plant the ball with just a few centimetres to spare. The lead became 10-0 after 22 minutes with Johnson’s splendid conversion from the touchline.
The Vodafone Warriors’ right edge was providing fruit and in the 33rd minute they found more gold there, Johnson going to the line and second rower Bodene Thompson powering through for his sixth try. Another Johnson conversion had the lead out to a handy 16-0 approaching halftime.
The Storm spent the final few minutes of the half in the Vodafone Warriors’ red zone but encountered resistance each time, exceptionally so when Kinnar had an opportunity down the right edge. With the defence stretched for numbers, Wright came up with a superb try-saver. It enabled the Vodafone Warriors to head to the dressing room with their 16-point advantage intact.
However, the Storm were calling the tune in the opening stanza of the second half.
A clever Cronk chip produced a try for Koroibete four minutes into the half and in the 52nd minute Melbourne had a second try with slick hands putting Kenny Bromwich over on the left edge. Smith couldn't convert either try leaving the Vodafone Warriors still holding an eight-point lead.
It didn't stay that way for long with the Vodafone Warriors back out to a 12-point lead after 56 minutes.
It was the try of the night and one of the tries of the season, starting with a Chad Townsend last tackle kick which was acrobatically - not to mentiion astonishingly - flicked back by an airborne Friend; more followed with some spectacular ball skills from Johnson and Tomkins and a wonderful finish by Lolohea for his second try of the game. No conversion and it was 20-8.
Too quickly the Storm had trimmed the margin to 20-14 with a superb try of their own, Kenny Bromwich backing up for his second try. Cameron Smith converted.
If anxiety levels were beginning to rise they were eased somewhat by a Johnson special in the 66th minute.
Captain Simon Mannering created second phase with a superb off load on the way down in a tackle, Friend shifted to his right and Johnson simply cut Melbourne's defensive line apart for a brilliant try, his seventh of the season.
With his conversion followed by a 73rd minute penalty the lead was out to a match-clinching 14 points.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 28 (Tuimoala Lolohea 2, David Fusitu’a, Bodene Thompson, Shaun Johnson tries; Shaun Johnson 3 conversions, penalty).
Melbourne Storm 14 (Kenny Bromwich 2, Marika Koroibete tries; Cameron Smith conversion).
Halftime: 16-0 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Gerard Sutton and Chris James.
Vodafone Warriors | Sam Tomkins; Tuimoala Lolohea, David Fusitu’a, Solomone Kata, Jonathan Wright; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Albert Vete, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Raymond Faitala-Mariner; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Siliva Havili, Charlie Gubb, Sione Lousi.