Wing Matt Faitotoa’s 78th-minute try converted a two-point deficit into a dramatic 14-12 win for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in today’s 17th-round NYC match against Gold Coast at Mount Smart Stadium.
The home side had bolted to a 10-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes but the Titans worked their way back with a try soon after and then a second in the 51st minute to take the lead 12-10.
There the score stayed as both sides traded blows, the Vodafone Junior Warriors not wanting for opportunities but not being able to finish their sets the way they would have liked.
They remained patient, though, and eventually earned the opening.
With three minutes left they forced a goal-line drop out, came back at the Titans and set up to go to a wide left. A slick shift created space, Junior Pauga putting Faitotoa over for what turned out to be the match winner.
The arm wrestle nature of much of the battle was in stark contrast to the opening.
Second rower Marata Niukore sparked the home side with a strong carry in the middle of the field and soon after prop Kenese Kenese ran the ball hard towards the posts. Stopped short he played quickly, hooker Sheldon Pitama going flat to Joseph Price on his right shoulder with the loose forward backing in and spinning to get the ball down in the eighth minute.
Fullback Kane Telea converted and from the restart the Vodafone Junior Warriors put together a wonderful set finishing with left centre Junior Pauga going over to make it 10-0 after just 10 minutes.
The momentum was snapped, though, when Gold Coast standoff Josh Ralph was handed room to run, cutting right through the line to score with wing Tyronne Davis converting to leave the home side 10-6 ahead.
There was no further change to the score-line before the break but close to halftime a melee involving a number of players resulted in Niukore and Gold Coast’s Jerome Veve both being sin-binned for 10 minutes.
Vodafone Junior Warriors coach Kelvin Wright also had injury issues with standoff Chanel Harris-Tavita out of the contest early after being taken off for concussion test.
With the second half just 11 minutes old, Veve, not long back from the sin bin, atoned by charging over between the posts, a try Davis converted to give the Titans a 12-10 advantage.
Just when it seemed the visitors might hold on, the patient Vodafone Junior Warriors conjured up their winning play and a third consecutive victory following their successes against the Sydney Roosters and Cronulla.
Their perseverance showed through in their impressive completion rate of 84 per cent (32 from 38 sets) while they made almost 1900 metres with the ball.
Pauga, who has topped 200 metres in the last two games, was exceptional again today, credited with an astonishing
306 metres from 22 runs.
It improves their record to 7-9 to leave them 10th for now on 16 points and three points off eighth place.
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 14 (Joseph Price, Junior Pauga, Matt Faitotoa tries; Kane Telea conversion).
Gold Coast Titans 12 (Josh Ralph, Jerome Veve tries; Tyronne Davis 2 conversions).
Halftime: 10-6 Vodafone Junior Warriors.
Referees: Jon Stone and Belinda Sleeman.
Vodafone Junior Warriors | Kane Telea; Lewis Soosemea, Junior Pauga, Alfred Smalley, Matt Faitiotoa; Chanel Harris-Tavita, Eiden Ackland; Kenese Kenese, Shedon Pitama (c), Chris Sio; Marata Niukore, Joseph Vuna; Joseph Price. Interchange: Tyler Mohi, Mattais Heimuli, Jerome Mamea, Keanu Dawson.