A 79th-minute Wests Tigers try cruelly denied the Vodafone Junior Warriors a morale-boosting victory in their 25th-round NYC clash at Mount Smart Stadium today.
After conceding 18 points on end to fall 12-18 behind, the Vodafone Junior Warriors had stormed back with tries to hooker Sheldon Pitama and centre Junior Pauga to lead 24-18, an advantage they still held as the contest went into the final 90 seconds.
The Tigers were on attack, though, and in dying moments they struck with a try to prop Ray Stone beside the left-hand upright. The conversion was straightforward to ensure the match ended in a 24-24 draw.
Coming off a 0-34 loss to North Queensland, their third loss on end, the Vodafone Junior Warriors were good value in the first half as they went to the break 12-0 ahead through a thundering try to second rower Ofahiki Ogden and the first of Pauga's two tries.
With injuries reducing them to just one fit player on the bench, the home side was under the hammer in the second spell as the Tigers scored three tries in the space of nine minutes to storm to an 18-12 lead.
A fabulous show and go by Pitama from dummy half put the Vodafone Junior Warriors back on even terms before Pauga – who made almost 200 metres – put them in the lead only to be denied in the final moments.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 24 (Junior Pauga 2, Ofahiki Ogden, Sheldon Pitama tries; Junior Pauga 3 conversions; Dylan Tavita conversion).
Wests Tigers 24 (Thomas Bartley, Daniel Roberts, Mark McCormack, Ray Stone tries; Roman Ioelu 4 conversions).
Halftime: 12-0 Vodafone Junior Warriors.
Referee: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski.
Vodafone Junior Warriors | Matt Faitotoa; Lewis Soosemea, Melino Fineanganofo, Junior Pauga, Preston Riki; Dylan Tavita, Chanel Harris-Tavita; Kenese Kenese, Sheldon Pitama (c), Joseph Vuna; Ofahiki Ogden, Marata Niukore; Chris Sio. Interchange: Mattais Heimuli, Jerome Mamea, Elijah Sufia, Cyrus Timo-Latu.