A five-try second half blitz catapulted the Vodafone Warriors to a commanding 40-18 win over Newcastle in today's fourth-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
Tries to Blake Ayshford, Tuimoala Lolohea, Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke blasted the home side into a 40-12 lead before conceding a late Knights try.
The first win of the season after competitive performances against Wests Tigers, Brisbane and Melbourne followed a tight first half when the two sides went to the break locked up 12-12.
There had been early signs there might be something special in the offing.
In their first set in possession the Vodafone Warriors were immediately awarded a penalty.
From the repeat set, they went to their left, Jeff Robson linking with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who spun in contact and put Solomone Kata in for his fourth try of the season. Johnson’s conversion was on point from the side-line.
Minutes later a Johnson bomb was spilled by the Knights, the ball heading left again for Vatuvei to cross for what might have been his first try of the season. Referee Adam Devcich wasn’t so sure, questioning a possible knock-on in the lead-up by Kata; the bunker concurred and the try was rubbed out.
It was a cue for the Knights to enjoy a fruitful phase with tries in the eighth minute to prop Sam Mataora and the 12th minute to fullback Dane Gagai. Trent Hodkinson converted both for a 12-6 lead.
In the 20th minute the Vodafone Warriors had every reason to believe they’d scored again, this time going to their right with a precision play for Lolohea to go over. Again the build-up was questioned, the bunker finding a debatable obstruction call and a second try was voided, giving the crowd every reason to feel aggrieved.
The breaks weren’t coming but the Vodafone Warriors set about creating and sustaining pressure. The Knights found ways to resist but finally in the 37th minute the home side created and executed a try the officials couldn't and didn’t call into question.
It came courtesy of the people’s champion Charlie Gubb and his front row soulmate Ben Matulino. Coming onto the field to infuse the side with his special dose of energy, Gubb took a slightly low pass expertly, serving it up to Matulino on his shoulder who cut back against the grain to score his first try of the season. Johnson’s conversion had it all tied up 12-12.
There was a chance to finish the half in front when the Vodafone Warriors forced a last tackle error but the play faltered leaving it all to play for in the second half.
The Vodafone Warriors were fast out of the gates, making a statement with some stinging defence and aggressive carries leading to a last tackle try just two minutes into the half.
Johnson’s low kick cannon-balled, Lolohea collecting the rebound, feeding Johnson inside and then he found centre Blake Ayshford outside for the ex-Cronulla man to score his first try for his new club. Johnson’s sideline conversion was perfect and the Vodafone Warriors had an important 18-12 lead.
The situation was even better five minutes later when Johnson double-pumped to give Tuivasa-Sheck a little space to put Ayshford away. He drew the cover beautifully and Lolohea at last had a legitimate try after being denied in the first half. With Johnson’s conversion the score was out to 24-12.
After 51 minutes the lead had climbed still further with a third try in the space of nine minutes.
A bomb to the right was contested by Lolohea and the ball shipped right across the field to the left for the fearsome Vatuvei to scatter defenders in a trademark finish. Like Lolohea, he at last had his first legal try of the day (and the 147th of his career). Johnson could do no wrong with the boot splicing the posts with another superb goal.
At 30-12 the Vodafone Warriors were well and truly in business hunting their first win of the year.
A comparative lull in the scoring followed but the next statement could scarcely have been more stunning.
It came from Johnson, who shot across the field to his right on a bewildering stepping, weaving run to score in the corner; Johnson’s magic was emphatically in display as he left one defender after another absolutely mesmerised. For the first time he failed at goal but the Vodafone Warriors were 34-12 to the good heading for their 10th win over the Knights in their last 11 meetings at Mount Smart.
Seven minutes from time came the Vodafone Warriors' fifth try of the half and the seventh of the day; it was another hugely popular one, too, when hooker Luke shot over from dummy half in his first outing for the club at home.
A defensive lapse followed, though, when the Knights shot down the short side from a scrum to create a try from distance for wing Nathan Ross closing the margin of defeat to 22 points when it might have been even more.
With the win the Vodafone Warriors not only climbed a few spots on the ladder but also gave their points for and against differential a healthy boost.
Next up they're back on the road to take on the Sydney Roosters in Gosford next Sunday.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 40 (Solomone Kata, Ben Matulino, Blake Ayshford, Tuimoala Lolohea, Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson, Issac Luke tries; Shaun Johnson 6 conversions).
Newcastle Knights 18 (Sam Mataora, Dane Gagai, Nathan Ross tries; Trent Hodkinson 3conversions).
Referees: Adam Devcich and Chris James.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; Tuimoala Lolohea, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Jonathan Wright; Jeff Robson, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino; Simon Mannering, Ryan Hoffman (c); Albert Vete. Interchange: Jazz Tevaga, Charlie Gubb, Sam Lisone, Konrad Hurrell.