Centre Marata Niukore bagged a hat-trick to extend the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ impressive record in NYC finals football as they beat the Sydney Roosters 32-22 in tonight’s elimination play-off at Allianz Stadium.
Heading into their eighth consecutive finals campaign, the defending NYC premiers were up against a side they were meeting in the play-offs for the fourth straight year.
An Erin Clark off load put Niukore in for his first try in the fourth minute before he snared a Clark bomb for his second in the 33rd minute and then ran a great line onto a Brad Abbey short ball for his third in the 45th minute.
The treble lifted Niukore’s try tally for the season to 11 in 15 games.
Through Niukore’s efforts and tries to hooker Tyler Mohi and standoff Kauri Aupouri the Vodafone Junior Warriors had the game under control only to allow the Roosters a glimmer of hope twice.
They were up 20-6 closing in on halftime when they failed to cover Roosters hooker Joey Lussick, allowing him to worm his way over from dummy half.
Ahead by just eight points at halftime they then reasserted themselves in the opening stanza of the second half, first with Niukore’s third try and then a beautifully engineered effort in the 54th minute when they spread to the right for Niukore to send Paul Ulberg in. They had also been denied a try to prop Paul Tuli on an obstruction call.
At 30-12 the defending NYC premiers couldn’t have been much better-placed against a side they had beaten at Allianz Stadium while losing at home during the regular season.
But thoughts of a 16th final victory in 21 matches since the competition began in 2008 were given a shake when prop Richard Skelton and halfback Grant Garvey scored in the 59th and 69th minutes. Critically Latrell Mitchell failed to convert Garvey’s try from a handy angle leaving the Vodafone Junior Warriors with an eight-point lead.
It was still under threat as the Roosters built pressure having one try ruled out on review and going close on other occasions.
In the face of immense defensive heat in the final five minutes the Vodafone Junior Warriors kept turning the Roosters away, eventually breaking out of trouble with a vital Jazz Tevaga intercept.
They went back on attack from a Roosters knock-on and then picked up a penalty as well in front of the posts. Using the opportunity to take some time off the clock, the Vodafone Junior Warriors went for two, Abbey knocking over the goal to give his side a 10-point victory. It was their third straight finals win over the Roosters.
There were some huge contributions in the forwards where the Vodafone Junior Warriors enjoyed some ascendancy before the Roosters came back into the contest on the back of a steady supply of possession.
Starting prop Paul Tuli was immense with 176 metres plus 35 tackles as was the ever-energetic Tevaga who made 188 metres and 40 tackles while second rower Ofahiki Ogden and props Tualima Tualima and Amoni Tufui also topped 100 metres as did Niukore, fellow centre Semisi Tyrell and Ulberg.
Clark was impressive, too, with two try assists and two line break assists while Abbey provided some nice touches and also key defensive saves.
Next week the Vodafone Junior Warriors will play the loser of tomorrow night’s qualifying final between second-placed Brisbane and third-placed North Queensland for the chance to move into week three of the finals.
Match details | Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Sydney Roosters (6) 22 (Shaq Mitchell, Joey Lussick, Richard Skelton, Grant Garvey tries; Lattrell Mitchell 3 conversions).
Vodafone Junior Warriors (7) 32 (Marata Niukore 3, Tyler Mohi, Kauri Aupouri, Paul Ulberg tries; Brad Abbey 3 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 20-12 Vodafone Junior Warriors.
Referees: Matt Noyen and Kasey Badger.
Vodafone Junior Warriors | Brad Abbey; Paul Ulberg, Marata Niukore, Semisi Tyrell, Tomas Aoake; Kauri Aupouri, Erin Clark; Tualima Tualima, Casey Lafaele, Paul Tuli; Ofahiki Ogden, Matiu Love-Henry; Jazz Tevaga (c). Interchange: Tyler Mohi, Mattais Heimuli, Amoni Tufui, Lewis Soosemea.