Just two days after recommitting to the Vodafone Warriors, Shaun Johnson was the match-winning hero when he nailed an 80th-minute penalty to give his side a dramatic 14-13 victory over the Sydney Roosters in today's brutal ninth-round NRL encounter at Mount Smart Stadium.
In a relentless contest, the Roosters had recovered from a 4-12 halftime deficit to wrest a 13-12 lead through a 75th-minute Mitchell Pearce field goal.
These Vodafone Warriors have shown a steely resolve throughout the season, though.
That resolve has been building each week. It came right to the fore with some stunning defensive resilience in the latter stages and then manifested itself as the Vodafone Warriors set about finding victory in the dying moments.
They were blocked trying to set up a field goal option but instead, when the play broke down, referee Ashley Klein went all the way back towards the left side of the field where Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce had been ruled offside.
Now came the moment when Johnson could win the match with an angled penalty 20 metres out. He calmly obliged giving the Vodafone Warriors their 21st victory over the Roosters and their third on end over them after winning both battles last year.
Going into the representative weekend they now have a 4-5 win-loss record to keep them right in the mix on the points table. They're 11th on eight points, just two points outside the top eight and only four points behind a group of four teams who are level in second place on 12 points (including the Roosters).
Just seven minutes into the second half a Shaun Kenny-Dowall intercept try had brought the Roosters back within two points of the Vodafone Warriors before a Michael Gordon penalty levelled the scores at 12-12.
It set the scene for a ferocious slugfest down the stretch with both sides hanging tough before the Vodafone Warriors showed all the will in the world to claim two points. The standout feature throughout was their defence, especially on their own line including a phase when they defended several repeat sets. At one point captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck made an astonishing try-stopping tackle on Roosters back rower Boyd Cordner which typified the Vodafone Warriors' attitude across the park.
After a typically tough first 40 minutes, they had taken a 12-4 lead into the halftime break through tries to James Gavet and David Fusitu'a (his seventh in nine games this year) but Kenny-Dowall's effort from 60 metres out proved a setback.
Only minutes before his try the Vodafone Warriors thought they had their third try and the prospect of a 10 or 12-point advantage after debutant wing Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad went across only for the bunker to rub it out.
For the third game running, the Vodafone Warriors were the first to score today, Gavet powering onto a flat Issac Luke pass in the sixth minute for his first try for the club and only the second of his career.
The score stayed 6-0 until the 28th minute when the Roosters went almost the length of the field in a movement started by a long Kenny-Dowall break on the left which finished with right centre Joseph Manu crossing for an unconverted try.
The home side would have the final say of the half, though, when Shaun Johnson put Fusitu'a over and converted for a 12-4 advantage.
It would prove to be the prelude to a second half which delivered bucketloads of evidence of just why the NRL is like no other competition. It keeps on keeping on, providing one enthralling contest after another. Yesterday's battle, coming just five days after the Anzac Day thriller in Melbourne, was sporting theatre at its best.
Now the NRL takes a break for an enticing representative weekend with a big number of Vodafone Warriors involved across the Kiwis, Toa Samoa, Mate Ma'a Tonga and the Cook Islands.
The rest of the squad will be back at training this week preparing for the club's 10th-round date with the Penrith Panthers at Pepper Stadium on Saturday, May 13 (3.00pm kick-off).
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 14 (James Gavet, David Fusitu'a tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions, penalty).
Sydney Roosters 13 (Joseph Manu, Shaun Kenny-Dowall tries; Michael Gordon conversion, penalty; Mitchell Pearce field goal).
Halftime: 12-4 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Ashley Klein and Jon Stone.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson; James Gavet, Issac Luke, Jacob Lillyman; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Nathaniel Roache, Ligi Sao, Sam Lisone, Ben Matulino.