Halfback Mason Lino was named man of the match after a gritty Vodafone Warriors defensive performance produced a crucial 20-16 victory over Wests Tigers in Saturday’s 23rd-round New South Wales Cup clash at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
Lino scored a try, kicked four goals from four attempts and had a key hand in one of centre Marata Niukore’s two tries as the Vodafone Warriors recovered from a slow start and then held on heroically in the last 15 minutes to eke out their 13th win of the season.
The win in the early game of the day left them alone at the top of the table on 32 points for a short while until the other three teams at the top also won to restore a four-way tie on 32 points. On points for and against the Vodafone Warriors lie fourth behind Wyong, the Mounties and Penrith.
The contest against the Tigers began indifferently for the Vodafone Warriors as they sought to recover from last week’s loss to North Sydney. With two early tries, the home side bolted to a 10-0 lead.
In their third straight away game, the Vodafone Warriors hung tough, fighting their way back into the contest when Lino broke clear up the middle to score and convert to cut the margin to 6-10. Lino also added a penalty to leave the sides just two points apart at halftime.
The complexion of the match changed with two strikes by the Vodafone Warriors midway through the second spell.
In the 52nd minute Niukore surged onto an Ata Hingano grubber near the line with Lino slotting the conversion to give the Vodafone Warriors the lead – 14-10 – for the first time in the match.
In the 61st minute Niukore seized on a spilled Lino kick for his second try, again converted by Lino, for a 20-10 lead.
The rest of contest became a battle of attrition for the Vodafone Warriors as they were forced to defend multiple repeat sets as the Tigers dominated possession. Time after time they turned them away until fullback Kurtis Rowe scored with five minutes left.
Down 16-20, the Tigers kept coming at the Vodafone Warriors near their line, threatening to score twice. Finally the visitors denied them in the final seconds to secure victory.
Match details | Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney
Wests Tigers 16 (Delouise Hoeter, Chance Peni, Kurtis Rowe tries; Josh Drinkwater 2 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 20 (Marata Niukore 2, Mason Lino tries; Mason Lino 3 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 10-8 Tigers.
Referee: Chris Treneman.
Vodafone Warriors: Viliami Kaveinga; Saula Solomona, Marata Niukore, David Fusitu’a, Tomas Aoake; Ata Hingano, Mason Lino; Upu Poching, Siliva Havili, Sebastine Ikahihifo; John Palavi (c), Sione Lousi; David Bhana. Interchange: Zac Tippins, James Bell, Sione Feao, Levi Norton.