Centre Marata Niukore’s superb hat-trick was in vain as Melbourne stole a 24-20 win over the Vodafone Junior Warriors in Sunday’s 18th-round NYC clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
After going 0-14 behind after 26 minutes, the slow-starting Vodafone Junior Warriors fought back impressively to give themselves a chance of victory.
With the first of Niukore’s tries in the 33rd minute they went to the break trailing 4-14 only for Melbourne to extend to 18-4 early in the second half.
The next half an hour belonged to the home side, though.
While they were again without influential spine players Nathaniel Roache and Ata Hingano – who were playing for the club’s New South Wales Cup side – the Vodafone Junior Warriors were composed as they set about recovering lost ground.
First halfback Erin Clark muscled his way over in the 49th minute to trim the margin to 10-18. It was very much game on.
In the 59th minute Niukore’s second try left his side just four points adrift at 14-18 and then he delivered what might have been the killer blow with his third try 10 minutes later, Brad Abbey coolly converting to have the Vodafone Junior Warriors leading 20-18 with 10 minutes to play.
They weren’t able to hold on, though, with Junior Kirisome’s second try and the subsequent conversion giving Melbourne a 24-20 lead, an advantage it protected despite the Vodafone Junior Warriors coming finishing strongly in the final few minutes.
A third loss in the last five games denied the Vodafone Junior Warriors the chance to move into fourth spot on the ladder; had they done so the round would have finished with each of the club’s three teams in the top four.
Despite the loss there was again much to like about the way a largely inexperienced side went about its business, as had been the case in the previous outing against Canberra when an under-strength line-up lost 16-24.
Four of the outside backs ran for more than 100 metres, fullback Tomas Aoake the best of them with 193 metres. Regular fullback Brad Abbey, playing at standoff, had three try assists and forwards Bunty Afoa, Paul Tuli, Ofahiki Ogden and Jazz Tevaga all powered up with 100-plus metres each; Tevaga’s numbers were outstanding as he carried the ball 25 times for 223 metres while also making 35 tackles.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors lie fifth after 18 rounds, one point behind Canberra.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 20 (Marata Niukore 3, Erin Clark tries; Brad Abbey 2 conversions)
Melbourne Storm 24 (Junior Kirisome 2, Jake Turpin, Latrell Robinson, Charlie Galo tries; Zion Ioka 2 conversions).
Halftime: 14-4 Storm.
Referees: Phil Henderson and Shane Rehm.
Vodafone Junior Warriors: Tomas Aoake; Junior Pauga, Marata Niukore, Semisi Tyrell, Levi McBirney; Brad Abbey, Erin Clark; Bunty Afoa (c), Chris Sio, Paul Tuli; Ofahiki Ogden, Matiu Love-Henry; Jazz Tevaga. Interchange: Tualima Tualima, Koli Oneone, Tyrone Nathan, Casey Lafaele.