The Vodafone Warriors were unable to capitalise on an electric start in Perth after falling 26-22 to the Manly Sea Eagles in a thrilling clash on a wet afternoon at nib Stadium.
Heading into the match having won three of their last four games, the Vodafone Warriors were looking to make a statement against a red-hot Manly side hunting for their fifth straight victory.
But having lost veteran second-rower Ryan Hoffman to a foot injury on top of making the longest road trip in the NRL, the challenge confronting them was a daunting one.
It didn’t get any easier, either, when they were reduced to just 15 men during the second half after losing both Albert Vete (broken arm) and Nate Roache (hamstring) to injuries.
But while the Vodafone Warriors played with real courage, coming within a whisker of taking the two competition points, the Sea Eagles somehow managed to hold on.
In a near-perfect start to the contest, it took the Vodafone Warriors just four minutes to stamp their mark on the contest when Bodene Thompson powered through a gap to score on the back of a well-timed Shaun Johnson pass.
Three minutes later, it was Johnson again who had the Manly defence in disarray, easily breaking through the line before sending the ball wide to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad on the right wing to score his side’s second try.
While the visiting team showed early poise to complete an incredible first 15 sets, the Sea Eagles appeared to struggle in the wet and made a series of uncharacteristic errors.
Boasting 75 percent of the possession through the first 15 minutes, it seemed it was only going to be a matter of time before the Vodafone Warriors would break through again.
Sure enough, they did just that not long after when skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck pounced on a pinpoint grubber from Kieran Foran.
Leading 16-0, it looked as if the visitors would finally break their Perth hoodoo. But Manly are in the top four for a reason and when Apisai Koroisau found a hole in the defensive line to send fullback Tom Trbojevic over for his side’s first try, it was a sign of things to come.
The momentum appeared to shift at that point and shortly after, Manly showed their attacking class through a Brian Kelly four-pointer.
With the Perth skies opening up, The Vodafone Warriors suddenly found themselves on the back foot for the first time in the match and were forced time and again to defend their line from a resurgent Sea Eagles outfit.
Then, with less than a minute to go in the first half, the hosts mounted yet another attack from deep in their own half and this time it was Akuila Uate on hand to level the scores going into the break.
With Vete failing to return for the second half after breaking his arm, the Vodafone Warriors were forced to dig deep against a Sea Eagles team riding high.
Quickly, Manly seized control and Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker tries inside the first 20 minutes saw the hosts race out to a 26-16 lead.
But the Vodafone Warriors weren’t about to give up without a fight and when Nicoll-Klokstad scored his second try for the night through a superb no-look pass from Tuivasa-Sheck and Johnson nailed the kick from the sideline, it was game on.
With the match on the line, the Vodafone Warriors threw everything they had at the Sea Eagles, twice coming within inches of the line, in a nail-biting final 15 minutes.
But the Sea Eagles somehow managed to hold on for the win.
nib Stadium, Perth
Manly Sea Eagles 26 (T Trbojevic 2 tries, B Kelly, A Uate, D Walker 1 try; M Wright 3 con)
Vodafone Warriors 22 (C Nicoll-Klokstad 2 tries, B Thompson, R Tuivasa-Sheck 1 try; S Johnson 2 cons)