Centre Junior Pauga’s 73rd-minute try and a superb Zion Ioka conversion from wide out sealed a 28-20 win for the Vodafone Junior Warriors over Manly in Saturday’s sixth-round NYC match at Mount Smart Stadium.
The contest was right in the balance entering the final few minutes until Pauga cleverly stripped the ball, juggled it and then raced away 30 metres to slam the ball down gleefully for his side’s fifth try.
Equally critical was Ioka’s conversion which took his side eight points clear with little time left.
The victory represented a huge turnaround for the home side after falling to a 6-44 loss to the Sydney Roosters just six days ago in Gosford.
After allowing an early Manly try, the Vodafone Junior Warriors kept up their intensity and remained composed building pressure and gaining good field position.
In the 16th minute they profited with a well-worked set play, a long ball from rookie standoff Chanel Harris-Tavita giving second rower Ofahiki Ogden room to terrorise the Manly defence.
He offloaded to Harris-Tavita on his left who in turn slipped a nice offload to left wing Lewis Soosemea to cross wide out.
With Ioka’s conversion making it 6-6, the Vodafone Junior Warriors had their second try almost immediately, coming down the left side from inside their own half to hand Telea an easy passage to the line.
No conversion this time but the 10-6 lead was 16-6 after 24 minutes when prop Isaiah Papalii powered over from close range for Ioka to convert from beside the posts.
Centre Brad Parker had a second try for Manly in the 29th minute to come within six points at 10-16.
When Telea snared his second in the 35th minute the Vodafone Junior Warriors had a healthy 22-10 lead but undid much of their good work by allowing the Sea Eagles to strike for the third time through their left edge to leave the halftime score 22-16.
The second half turned into a slugfest for the first 25 minutes, the Vodafone Junior Warriors unable to build on their lead.
Anxiety levels lifted when they conceded a fourth try as Manly came down its left edge once again but Nicholas Hynes couldn’t convert leaving the home side hanging on at 22-20.
Enter Pauga with his clever steal and Ioka with his pressure kick and the Vodafone Junior Warriors had an invaluable if hard-earned victory.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 28 (Kane Telea 2, Lewis Soosemea, Isaiah Papalii, Junior Pauga tries; Zion Ioka 4 conversions).
Manly Sea Eagles 20 (Brad Parker 2 tries, Bill Bainbridge, Harlan Collins tries; Nicholas Hynes 2 conversions).
Halftime: 22-16 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Phil Henderson.
Vodafone Junior Warriors | Kane Telea; Lewis Soosemea, Junior Pauga, Melino Fineranganofo, Levi McBirney; Chanel Harris-Tavita, Zion Ioka; Bunty Afoa, Chris Sio, Isaiah Papalii; Ofahiki Ogden, Marata Niukore (c); Kenese Kenese. Interchange: Sheldon Pitama (c), Tualima Tualima, Jerome Mamea, Joe Vuna.