Three second half tries have given the Vodafone Warriors an encouraging 26-6 win over Gold Coast in today's NRL trial in Palmerston North.
David Fusitu'a, James Gavet and Simon Mannering all scored in the second 40 minutes to leave their side 20 points clear after leading just 10-6 at the break.
Most impressive was the home side's defence throughout, yielding just one try, and that from a grubber kick in behind the defensive line for centre John Oliver's four-pointer right on halftime.
The end result followed a less than ideal opening when the Vodafone Warriors were penalised in the opening seconds of the game. However, when the Titans put heat on with a grubber in-goal, fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was well positioned to bat the ball dead for a goal-line dropout.
Back the Titans came, another grubber this time deflecting into the in-goal area but the chasers were offside giving the Vodafone Warriors a way out of their end after three consecutive sets defending.
Their first set on attack looked likely with two strong carries by Bunty Afoa and Albert Vete but possession was lost near the line just as they were in shape.
A spectacular Tuivasa-Sheck take and a resulting penalty took the Vodafone Warriors downfield again, the set ending with a nicely-weighted Shaun Johnson grubber.
Their next turn with the ball had an even better finish. Johnson grubbered towards the posts on the last tackle, chased well and forced a goal-line dropout. The execution on the resulting set wasn't quite on song, Charlie Gubb just unable to retain possession after taking a flat ball on the line on the last tackle.
After 15 minutes the contest was still locked at 0-0, the Vodafone Warriors impressing with their defensive organisation and attitude while Johnson was on point with his kicking game. On the right edge, the muscular Afoa was being used up often, regularly denting the line with plenty of runs.
Another deft kick - this time from Ata Hingano on the left side of the ruck - delivered another goal-line dropout and ultimately the first points of the game.
Going to the left again, Tuivasa-Sheck held up his pass nicely and 18-year-old Isaiah Papalii ran a perfect line to score after just coming onto the field. Johnson missed the conversion, leaving the score 4-0.
Minutes later Fusitu'a speared through and was seemingly try-bound only for a forward pass to be called.
Tuivasa-Sheck exploded through a hole on a half break, big left wing Ken Maumalo followed up next play breaking clear but was rounded up before Afoa had the ball jolted free running a hard line. Issac Luke was sniping from dummy half and Johnson was threatening taking on the line.
They were constantly building pressure and a play in the 35th minute delivered just reward.
Spine players Luke, Johnson and Tuivasa-Sheck all combined, the latter with a wide pass for right wing Tuimoala Lolohea to score in the corner. Johnson's conversion was sweet and the home side had a 10-0 lead.
Right on halftime, though, there was a lapse which allowed the Titans to go to the break just four points adrift.
The second half began with the Vodafone Warriors forcing back-to-back goal-line dropouts but not being able to force the issue with more points.
A lightning break by Tuivasa-Sheck had the Vodafone Warriors in prime position again. They came right but a a short ball to Afoa came unstuck.
When Titans wing Anthony Don broke clear the Vodafone Warriors reacted outstandingly to shut him down and then defend their line superbly. More than that theytransitioned exceptionally, thundering back downfield and creating a try for Fusitu'a, Tuivasa-Sheck working with Johnson to send the big centre over.
Only a few minutes later Erin Clark, on at hooker for the dangerous Luke, served up a pass for prop Gavet who charged across. Johnson converted and the lead was out to 20-6.
Inside the last five minutes, Johnson grubbered, Kane Elgey fumbled and the tireless Mannering picked up cleanly to score.
There was much to like about the performance, unquestionably so the defence, as the Vodafone Warriors completed their trials programme two weeks out from their first-round encounter with the Newcastle Knights at Mount Smart Stadium on March 5. It come soon enough.
There were two injury issues, second rower Ryan Hoffman leaving the field with a minor foot strain and Charlie Gubb with a sore neck after being tackled awkwardly in the second half. Gubb was taken to hospital for precautionary x-rays. Neither injury is expected to prevent the players being available for the first round.
Match details | Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North
Vodafone Warriors 26 (Isaiah Papalii, Tuimoala Lolohea, David Fusitu'a, James Gavet, Simon Mannering tries; Shaun Johnson 3 conversions).
Gold Coast Titans 6 (John Olive try; Ash Taylor conversion).
Halftime: 10-6 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Gavin Badger and Jon Stone.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); Tuimoala Lolohea, David Fusitu’a, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Ata Hingano, Shaun Johnson; Albert Vete, Issac Luke, Charlie Gubb; Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Sam Lisone, James Gavet, Blake Ayshford, Junior Pauga, James Bell, Mason Lino, Isaiah Papalii, Erin Clark. Head coach | Stephen Kearney.