One setback followed another before a brave and hugely-inexperienced Vodafone Warriors side went down 10-36 to the Mounties in today’s 25th-round New South Wales Cup clash at St Mary’s Stadium in Sydney.
After Wyong had beaten Wentworthville 44-12 earlier in the afternoon, the Mounties needed to win by 26 points or more to claim the minor premiership and set up a repeat encounter with the Vodafone Warriors in week one of the finals next week.
In the end they squeezed in with the bare minimum 26-point winning margin, just holding out a gallant Vodafone Warriors side which pressed hard for a party-spoiling try in the final stages.
The ultimate margin told nothing of the adversity the Vodafone Warriors were handed before and during the contest; nor did it reflect the immense effort put in.
Coach Stacey Jones had been forced to prepare for the match without countless regulars.
With the club’s top squad seriously depleted by injuries, seven NSW Cup regulars were chosen in the NRL side to face Wests Tigers tomorrow while another three NYC players used in recent weeks were dropped back to boost the Vodafone Junior Warriors for their game against Wests Tigers. Three more players were on the injured list.
Jones initially named a side drawn almost totally from Auckland’s Fox Memorial clubs. Gary Fuimaono (Pt Chevalier) and Wesley Tauti (Mangere East) were selected for their NSW Cup debuts while most of the other players chosen had played very little at this level at all.
Two more debutants were added in the confirmed line-up revealed today – Taylor Daniels (Northcote) and Kruz Tupou (Manurewa) – only for a fifth to be called in when experienced prop Upu Poching was ruled out in the warm-up. Daniels was moved from the bench to start and 18th man Corey Seator (Marist) suddenly found himself on the bench.
Elsewhere the patched-up Vodafone Warriors had usual hooker Havili playing in the halves and captain David Bhana starting at prop.
While the Vodafone Warriors could muster only limited NRL experience, the Mounties had a line-up stacked with players used at first-grade level.
Despite so much running against them, the Vodafone Warriors made an astonishing start with a Sione Fe’ao try and a Siliva Havili conversion inside two minutes – only for more adversity to strike when they lost wing Ken Maumalo to concussion at the same time.
Suddenly Seator, who wasn’t even in the side a few minutes earlier, was thrown into the fray for his debut on the wing.
The Vodafone Warriors couldn’t build on their early lead but still managed to hang in to go to the break just 6-14 down.
In the opening moments of the second half they were on song again, halfback Ray Talimalie nudging through a nice grubber for fullback Simon Luafalealo to score. At 10-14, the Vodafone Warriors were right in it on the scoreboard but soon enough the home side’s experience began to show through as it went on a run scoring four unanswered tries to surge to a 36-10 lead with 20 minutes still to play.
The Vodafone Warriors regrouped and refused to yield as they held out the Mounties in the last quarter and came close to scoring a try a number of times which would have prevented the home side clinching the minor premiership. Now they must prepare to face the same side again next week.
With five players making their debuts today, the Vodafone Warriors have now used 56 players so far this season.
Match details | St Mary’s Stadium, Sydney
Mounties 36 (Patrick Mago 2, Mark Nicholls, Gus Aiga, Stuart Mills, Mitch Cornish, Kyle O’Donnell tries; Mitch Cornish 4 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 10 (Sione Fe’ao, Simon Luafalealo tries; Siliva Havili conversion).
Halftime: 14-6 Mounties.
Referee: Damien Briscoe.
Vodafone Warriors: Simon Luafalealo; Ken Maumalo, Sione Fe’ao, Gary Fuimaono, Willie Peace; Siliva Havili, Ray Talimalie; Taylor Daniels, Zac Tippins, David Bhana (c); James Bell, Raymond Faitala-Mariner; Levi Norton. Interchange: Uila Aiolupo, Wesley Tauti, Kruz Tupou, Corey Seator.