For the fourth time in five games and an NRL record fifth occasion in a season the Vodafone Warriors were taken to golden point extra time - and at last there was joy as halfback Shaun Johnson's stunning try delivered a thrilling 20-16 win over Penrith in Saturday night's Women in League clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
After numbing extra-time losses to Cronulla, Manly and Canberra in the last few weeks, it was scarcely credible that the Vodafone Warriors should end up in sudden-death yet again.
The game was only 30 seconds away from finishing in a 16-16 draw when Johnson conjured up his magic.
He was all set to aim for a one-pointer only to be jammed for room as Panthers players rushed up from what were clearly offside positions (par for the course in extra time).
So from 20 metres out Johnson dummied, stepped and ran all the way for another bewldering SJ special, his 10th try of the season and one that evoked memories of his dazzling match-winner against Cronulla last year.
It lifted the Vodafone Warriors to 22 points and up to eighth on the ladder (they have the same points for and against differential as Penrith of minus 17 but are ranked ahead through scoring more points for with 417).
The win couldn't have been more critical after those three heartbreakers in the last month. Now they prepare to head to Gold Coast for another encounter with a team in the same area on the ladder.
Bolstered by the inclusion of second rower and Bodene Thompson and front rower Albert Vete, the Vodafone Warriors delivered a solid opening to the contest completing their first three sets.
While the first penalty was blown against them, the Vodafone Warriors almost immediately won one themselves to earn a passage out of their end.
The set very nearly delivered a try when Johnson's clever dink against the grain was desperately batted dead by Matt Moylan to concede a goal-line drop out.
There was no profit from the repeat set, a tough pass going down to give Penrith relief and ultimately a penalty in front of the Vodafone Warriors' posts, Nathan Cleary - playing on what used to be his field of dreams - putting over the goal for a 2-0 lead after 12 minutes.
Conditions were testing, the threat of rain always lurking. It was the archetypal roll the sleeves up time for the forwards.
In the 16th minute, the Vodafone Warriors started moving Penrith around, first going to their left with Johnson popping up on the edge and fullback Tuimoala Lolohea bending the line to go close.
Back right they went, Thomas Leuluai dropping a floated chip midway between the posts and the sideline for centre David Fusitu'a to claim and go over for his ninth try of the season. Surprisingly Issac Luke, in such sound kicking form lately, missed the conversion attempt from a handy position.
Leading 4-2, the Vodafone Warriors created more pressure a few minutes later by forcing another goal-line drop out. The repeat set was shaping well, Thompson driving to within a metre or two of the line only for an error to be ruled when he was trying to play the ball with defenders all over him.
The Vodafone Warriors forced errors out of Penrith right wing Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, gaining valuable field position and setting up an opportunity for Johnson to draw in three defenders towards him to give right wing Ken Maumalo a clear run to the line for his first try of the season and the second of his career in his 14th appearance.
Luke's conversion had the home side 10-2 ahead at the break but the scoreline became 10-8 just five minutes into the second half when a Cleary off load - which seemed suspiciously forward - created a Tyrone Peachey try wide out on Penrith's left. Cleary's successful conversion was greeted with near silence from the crowd.
Seven minutes later the Vodafone Warriors regained a little more comfort on the scoreboard when Fusitu'a steamed onto a Lolohea ball for his second try. The bunker looked at it and looked at it again (and again) before verifiying it. With Luke off the field, Johnson took the conversion attempt but was astray leaving the score 14-8 after 53 minutes.
The Panthers, feeding off back-to-back penalties, sniffed opportunities to bite back but the Vodafone Warriors were resolute, Solomone Kata snuffing out another raid when he picked off a Bryce Cartwright kick.
From that position, the Vodafone Warriors put together a fantastic set going downfield to force a goal-line dropout before drawing two penalties. From the second of them in front of the posts Luke, back on the field, took two points to extend the lead to 16-8.
It was down to 16-12 in the 65th minute when Penrith wing Josh Mansour busted through the defensive line, breaking multiple tackles to score an astonishing try Cleary couldn't convert.
There was plenty of time to go in this one. The Vodafone Warriors pushed, Kata went close but then the Panthers drew an error out of Lolohea when he spilled a bomb. The danger was averted.
Once again this one was headed for a tight finish.
On the back of consecutive golden point games, it seemed almost inevitable this game would be tied up, which it was when Mansour had his second try in the 73rd minute. To the total delight of the home crowd Cleary fluffed his lines again with the conversion and it was 16-16.
With a minute to play the Vodafone Warriors put together a sound set, creating a chance for Johnson to hit a one-pointer for victory. He was set to the right, the pot went wide and quite unbelievably the Vodafone Warriors were looking at their fifth golden point game of the season, their fourth in their last five games and their third in consecutive games (all records).
Into extra time a Panthers error in their own half presented a chance for the Vodafone Warriors.
They hit up towards the posts and were set to to pull the trigger but Penrith marauded - from an offside position it seemed - to force a handover without a field goal attempt eventuating.
After the first five-minute period it remained 16-16. The teams turned around with the Vodafone Warriors to receive.
The first set was solid enough, Johnsion hemmed in but getting a last tackle kick away.
The vital play came when Soilomone Kata executed an amazing one-on-one strip on Mansour in excellent field position - and from that set Johnson ultimately did the rest.
The Vodafone Warriors' defence was again outstanding. Across their last eight games their series of points conceded has been 18, 14, 10, 19, 18, 15, 26 and 16 - an average of just 17 points a game, one of the best records going in the competition over the last two months.
Their completions have also been much improved with 35 from 42 sets tonight (83 per cent).
It was all about the result this time, though, and the sense of relief was palpable. The top eight race goes on. Next stop Robina. It's all on again.
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 20 (David Fusitu'a 2, Ken Maumalo, Shaun Johnson tries; Issac Luke conversion, penalty).
Penrith Panthers 16 (Josh Mansour 2, Tyrone Peachey try; Nathan Cleary conversion, penalty).
Halftime: 10-2 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Grant Atkins Sutton and Chris Sutton.
Vodafone Warriors | Tuimoala Lolohea; Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu'a, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Albert Vete; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman (c); Simon Mannering. Interchange: Ben Matulino, Sam Lisone, Jazz Tevaga, Blake Ayshford.