Late tries to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Isaiah Papali'i thwarted a Mounties comeback to earn the Vodafone Warriors a crucial 32-22 victory in today's 21st-round Intrust Super Premiership clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
They were given a huge scare as they sought to give their campaign a much-needed boost after last week's disappointing 12-38 loss to lowly-ranked Newtown.
The Vodafone Warriors' handy 16-6 halftime lead was quickly trimmed to 16-14 by the visitors early in the second half before they drew level 22-22 with 15 minutes to play.
Only then did the Vodafone Warriors wake up to put the result to bed.
Earlier Vodafone Warriors coach Ricky Henry had rearranged his line-up for the contest.
Chris Satae, who made his NRL debut against the Cowboys last week, was available to slot into the front row pushing Patrick Sipley back to the bench while Jazz Tevaga started at loose forward replacing James Bell. Bell had been listed to play in the No 13 jersey earlier in the week but he was called up for his first-grade debut against Cronulla on Friday night.
There was significant reshuffling in the backline with Zac Santo moved from fullback to the halves, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad switched from the wing to fullback, Junior Pauga pushed out of the centres onto the wing and Semisi Fotu off the bench to start in the centres. Nicoll-Klokstad was also named captain.
In his playmaking role, Santo made his mark after just four minutes giving early ball to centre Matt Allwood to score from close to the line.
The Mounties countered in the 14th minute, benefiting from a string of penalties to arrange a try wide out for wing Alofi Mataele which former Vodafone Warrior Isaac John converted splendidly for a 6-4 lead.
The Vodafone Warriors then earned a period of dominance and were rewarded with twin strikes, first through recent signing Bureta Faraimo in the 19th minute. A Mounties attack broke down on the Vodafone Warriors' line, Fotu snaring the loose ball and feeding Faraimo who sped 80 metres to score with Pauga converting.
The 10-6 lead became 16-6 in the 28th minute when hooker Manaia Cherrington sneaked over from dummy half for Pauga to convert again.
Having built a 10-point lead the Vodafone Warriors then handed back their advantage when John crossed in the 44th minute and then again in the 53rd minute. Neither try was converted leaving the home side just 16-14 ahead.
When big Vodafone Warriors prop Toaf Sipley charged over from near the line in the 59th minute, Pauga's conversion took the score-line out to 22-14.
All too soon, though, the contest was locked up at 22-22 with 15 minutes to play after a Makahesi Makatoa try and a conversion and penalty from John.
It set up a frantic last stanza but the Vodafone Warriors were up for it, regrouping superbly after John's penalty.
Their first statement was a 71st minute try for skipper Nicoll-Klokstad. It came from long range again after the Mounties turned the ball over near the home side's line. Pauga swooped, collected the ball and went 70 metres before offloading to Nicoll-Klokstad and then converting the try to put his side 28-22 ahead.
The deal was sealed straight after the restart with second rower Isaiah Papali'i going over for an unconverted try, the 32-22 win lifting the Vodafone Warriors to second on the ladder on 29 points pending the outcome of the top-of-the-table encounter between the Mounties and Penrith.
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 32 (Matt Allwood, Bureta Faraimo, Manaia Cherrington, Toaf Sipley, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Isaiah Papali'i tries; Junior Pauga 4 conversions).
Mounties 22 (Isaac John 2, Alofi Mataele, Makahesi Makatoa tries; Isaac John 2 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 16-6 Vodafone Warriors.
Vodafone Warriors | Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (c); Junior Pauga, Matt Allwood, Semisi Fotu, Bureta Faraimo; Zac Santo, Sam Cook; Chris Satae, Manaia Cherrington, Daniel Palavi; Ofahiki Ogden, Isaiah Papali'i; Jazz Tevaga. Interchange: Patrick Sipley, Toafofoa Sipley, Charlie Gubb, King Vuniyayawa.