Four tries including a career first touchdown for an overjoyed Charlie Gubb have put an end to a tumultuous week by propelling the Vodafone Warriors to an unforgettable 26-10 win over St George Illawarra in today's ninth-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
The home side had been hit left, right and everywhere by injuries and off-field issues resulting in a line-up bearing little resemblance to the one usually seen but the vastly reshaped side launched a display brimful of gusto, intent and tempo.
The victory was the club's first over St George Illawarra since 2007 - and only the fifth in 24 encounters overall - ending a run of 11 straight defeats.
While the Dragons opened with a penalty, the Vodafone Warriors were the first to score a try, halfback Shaun Johnson running at the line, stepping through some traffic and pounding the ball into the turf emphatically for his 50th career try in the ninth minute; it also brought up 600 points for him.
A lead of 6-2 lasted only five minutes before the Dragons levelled up through centre Euan Aitken, with Gareth Widdop missing the conversion.
This would be a half defined by the bunker giving the Vodafone Warriors and their legion of supporters more than a little joy. Three times would-be St George Illawarra tries were rubbed out by the men watching on, each decision received gleefully by members and fans.
Along the way the Vodafone Warriors made their own statements at the other end.
In the 17th minute, fullback David Fusitu’a shipped a lovely pass left for recalled wing Matt Allwood to finish superbly (awarded only after deliberation by the bunker). Johnson’s conversion was outstanding.
Then in the 28th minute came one of the most popular tries likely to be seen at Mount Smart. Issac Luke, injected from the bench, picked out Gubb with a flat pass, the Wellingtonian charging and twisting to get the ball down for his first career try in his 22nd match. The crowd was in raptures with Johnson stretching the lead to 18-6 before the Dragons clawed four points back before halftime.
The Vodafone Warriors were playing with a special desperation. There were some errors deep on defence at their end but they summoned the will and means to turn the Dragons away.
Then when they had a chance they made it pay.
From a last tackle kick Blake Ayshford forced an error out of Widdop.
The Vodafone Warriors went at the posts, Luke twisting, trying to find a way over but then flopping out an offload for Jeff Robson to cross between the posts for his first try for the club. Johnson converted for a 24-10 lead with 15 minutes to play.
He then added two points and took time out of the game with a late penalty to take it out to 26-10 to complete a truly famous and emotional win for the club.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 26 (Shaun Johnson, Matt Allwood, Charlie Gubb, Jeff Robson tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions, penalty).
St George Illawarra Dragons 10 (Euan Aitken, Kalifa Faifai Loa tries; Gareth Widdop penalty).
Halftime: 18-10 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Gavin Badger and Chris Butler.
Vodafone Warriors | David Fusitu'a; Jonathan Wright, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Matt Allwood; Jeff Robson, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Jazz Tevaga, James Gavet; Shaun Lane, Ryan Hoffman (c); John Palavi. Interchange: Issac Luke, Charlie Gubb, Toafofoa Sipley, Sione Lousi.