Kieran Foran marked his highly-anticipated club debut with a wonderful second half solo try to help the Vodafone Warriors to a tense 28-22 victory over Gold Coast in a thrilling fifth-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium today.
With the Vodafone Warriors 16-22 down with 18 minutes to play, Foran's try and Shaun Johnson's conversion had the battle locked at 22-22.
Into the last 10 minutes it went, the field goal option looming large for both sides.
Johnson took aim but was wide. Kane Elgey did the same from distance for the Titans but was well astray.
The Vodafone Warriors set up again, found themselves boxed in by the hard-chasing Gold Coast defence and the ball ended up in Ryan Hoffman's hands on the left side of the ruck. Hoffman had a crack. It just missed but was touched in flight by the Titans. Goal-line dropout.
Back the Vodafone Warriors charged from the restart, the forwards marching forward with intensity as they had consistently throughout the second half. To the left it went and the wonderful Johnson was the provider and Hoffman the fitting recipient as he went through a big hole for the match winner.
The much-needed win, the second of the season, owed so much to the aggression the forwards brought to the battle but equally the influence Johnson and new face Foran provided, not to mention the exceptional captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
The Vodafone Warriors had opened energetically, the crowd roaring approval when Foran handled for the first time.
Just four minutes in, they breached the Gold Coast line from long range, Issac Luke on a searching run out of dummy half, teasing the line and breaking clear. Johnson was perfectly positioned pushing up on the inside to take Luke's pass and coast 30 metres for his 58th career try. Johnson converted.
After 10 minutes Gold Coast was on level terms after left centre Dale Copley blasted through the line to score, Ash Taylor converting. And just five minutes later the Titans had a 10-6 lead through dubious and fortuitous means.
First there was a rather suspect pass - forward in the crowd's eyes - followed by a kick rebounding off legs and straight back to the Titans, Copley putting left wing Daniel Vidot in for a try Taylor couldn't convert.
The lead was short-lived as the Vodafone Warriors delivered the perfect illustration of their all-Kiwi spine at work.
After a quick play-the-ball from James Gavet, Luke served it up, Foran went out the back to Johnson and then Tuivasa-Sheck threw a nice cut-out pass to put David Fusitu'a in wide out. It seemed a clear try but still it was referred to the bunker to check the put-down. Once ratified, Johnson nudged over a wonderful conversion from the touch-line to give his side a 12-10 edge.
In a rapid-fire first half the last two key moments belonged to the visitors.
First Taylor put his dangerous halves partner Elgey in after 31 minutes and three minutes later Elgey had a second chasing down a Tyrone Roberts kick. Taylor converted the second for a 22-12 advantage which they retained going into the break.
The Vodafone Warriors started the second half with a rearranged back row, Bodene Thompson not returning, Simon Mannering going to the right edge and Ligi Sao to the middle.
The spell was only five minutes old when the home side made the opening statement.
Forcing the Titans into an error deep on defence, the Vodafone Warriors struck from the scrum, Johnson shifting to Tuivasa-Sheck who dummied and just kept going and going all the way to the corner to score. No conversion but it was now down to 16-22.
The Vodafone Warriors needed to get into the grind and they did.
With each tension-packed moment they fought for position and opportunities. The pressure was mounting and then a fairy tale was written.
After a brilliant last tackle kick and chase the Vodafone Warriors forced a goal-line dropout. Gavet made a powerful surge. Then the moment - Johnson ghosted across the line, linked with Foran and what happened after that was pure gold.
Foran dummied, busted Kevin Proctor's tackle and then surged over for a special try. Johnson converted and the contest was tied up at 22-22 with 18 minutes to play.
And then Hoffman with the coup de grace for a splendid come-from-behind victory.
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 22 (Shaun Johnson, David Fusitu'a, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran, Ryan Hoffman tries; Shaun Johnson 4 conversions).
Gold Coast Titans 22 (Kane Elgey 2, Dale Copley, Daniel Vidot tries; Ash Taylor 3 conversions).
Halftime: 22-12 Titans.
Referees: Adam Gee and Gavin Reynolds.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson; James Gavet, Issac Luke, Jacob Lillyman; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Charlie Gubb, Sam Lisone, Ligi Sao, Mafoa'aeata Hingano.