NRL | Battle of attrition
The Vodafone Warriors were unable to overcome losing key playmaker Shaun Johnson to a season-ending leg injury as they fell 12-32 to Manly in tonight's 20th-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
The 24-year-old, making his 101st appearance, was helped off the field late in the first half with an injury head coach Andrew McFadden later confirmed had ended his 2015 campaign.
Johnson emerged during the halftime break on the medicab to be transported to the team's dressing room in the East Stand before being taken to hospital for scans.
The injury happened in the 25th minute as he was scoring another stunning try - his eighth of the season - but he he immediately reeled away in pain after his left leg was jammed underneath a defender.
The try and Tuimoala Lolohea's conversion had enabled the Vodafone Warriors to go to halftime locked up at 6-6 but in the opening 10 minutes of the second half the Sea Eagles surged ahead 22-6 with three tries, two to left wing Jorge Taufua, to take control of the contest.
The Vodafone Warriors had started the night well, applying the early heat to earn good field position as they completed four of their first five sets to build some pressure but a relieving penalty quickly changed the tone and Manly immediately took advantage.
Working around the posts back rower Ligi Sao - just signed this week to return to the Vodafone Warriors next season - popped a terrific off load in traffic for prop Jake Trbojevic to score near the right-hand upright. Jamie Lyon’s conversion had Manly 6-0 ahead after 10 minutes.
The Vodafone Warriors responded aggressively, offensive defence earning them time in Manly’s red zone. After winning a penalty 10 metres out from Manly’s line, they shaped to reap rewards from the repeat set only for a forward pass to be called.
The game would prove notable for its attrition rate, not just Johnson's injury but several others before and after it.
Vodafone Warriors second rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner was taken off the field after 17 minutes following a head knock, heading into the dressing room to be put through the mandatory concussion protocols.
Four minutes later Manly centre Steve Matai had to leave the field with what appeared to be a serious concussion after his head slammed into the ground. His night was over.
In the 22nd minute the Sea Eagles shifted left, fullback Brett Stewart swept around the back, shifted left and Taufua crossed for what was sent upstairs as a try. It was replayed and replayed before the video referees ruled what had seemed a clear case of obstruction from the outset. No try.
It became a 12-point play with the Vodafone Warriors immediately striking at the other end with Johnson's try.
Keeping the ball alive, they probed left, then swept back to the right where Johnson turned it on again, exploding for another of his speciality tries. It was expensive as Johnson, as it transpired, had his season ended but Tuimoala Lolohea, taking over the kicking duties, piloted the conversion to lock it up 6-6 after 26 minutes.
By then Faitala-Mariner had been cleared to return to the field. Following Johnson's injury, he switched to right centre while Lolohea went into the halves.
Another serious injury followed immediately. From the restart Albert Vete thundered back on the return, the collision leaving Manly forward Luke Burgess on the ground; he was taken off with a serious knee injury and soof after second rower Tom Symonds was also out of commission with a knee problem. As well as Matai, Burgess and Symonds, Manly would also lose Sao with a knee complaint leaving it with no players on the bench for the final stages of the contest.
It didn't affect the Sea Eagles, though, as they turned up the heat with a three-try burst - two to Taufua and one to Stewart - early in the second half to jump to a 22-6 lead. After being level at halftime it turned the match on its head.
And, after going close to climbing back into it, the Vodafone Warriors fell further behind when Stewart scored his second try in the 67th minute. Lyon converted and Manly was out to a 26-6 lead.
The Vodafone Warriors found some joy at last on a grim night when prop Albert Vete powered over for his first NRL try but Manly redressed the balance with a Matt Ballin try to extend to a convincing 32-12 win, a huge disappointment for the Vodafone Warriors on a night when so many former players were in attendance for thje annual Old Boys' Day.
On a deflating night the Vodafone Warriors had only four players who gained more than 100 metres - props Jacob Lillyman (160), Ben Matulino (144) and Vete (119) plus captain Simon Mannering (121). The overworked Mannering also had another taxing defensive load making 57 tackles.
The Vodafone Warriors now need to rebound from the twin blows of Johnson's injury and the loss to take on Cronulla at home again next Saturday.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 12 (Shaun Johnson, Albert Vete tries; Tuimoala Lolohea 2 conversions).
Manly Sea Eagles 32 (Jorge Taufua 2, Brett Stewart 2, Jake Trbojevic, Matt Ballin tries; Jamie Lyon 4 conversions).
Referees: Grant Atkins and Gavin Reynolds.
Vodafone Warriors | Sam Tomkins; Glen Fisiiahi, Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Jonathan Wright; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Raymond Faitala-Mariner; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Siliva Havili, Sione Lousi, Sam Rapira, Albert Vete.