Vodafone Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney found plenty to like about his side’s performance in a solid 20-14 win over Melbourne in today’s NRL trial at Rotorua International Stadium.
Kearney was particularly pleased with the efforts of a number of his forwards, especially new signing Leivaha Pulu and Ligi Sao as well as the young brigade Isaiah Papali’i and Joe Vuna, both of whom are still eligible for the club’s under-20 side this season.
The coaching staff couldn’t get a line on another new signing Agnatius Paasi. The prop was an early casualty, leaving the field with what Kearney said was a medial ligament strain which will require further assessment. It happened in Paasi’s first carry of the game.
The Vodafone Warriors scored tries in each of the four quarters but couldn’t break free of the Storm despite threatening to do so in the second 40 minutes.
Melbourne might have lacked well-known players for this trial but all Storm sides have plenty of quality.
While the Vodafone Warriors opened solidly enough, they couldn’t prevent the Storm catching them out for numbers, creating room from long range for right winger Matt Sopa-Lawler to go over wide out.
Centre Solomone Kata levelled the score up at 4-4 when he bulldozed over off a nice short ball from standoff Ata Hingano and the Vodafone Warriors went to halftime 10-4 ahead through the best of their four tries.
It was engineered by some sweet flick-on passes from Peta Hiku and Blake Ayshford to give Tonga international David Fusitu’a enough room to squeeze in at the right corner.
The hardworking Sao was rewarded early in the second half when he collected a deft Mason Lino grubber in behind Melbourne’s defensive line while young winger Lewis Soosemea had his side’s last try when he was put in wide out by Lino and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. The latter had been switched to the centres when Rotorua teenager Hayze Perham came on at fullback and provided a number of exciting touches.
Two of Melbourne’s tries were from long range but the Vodafone Warriors muscled up well inside their 20 apart from a lapse at the ruck which allowed Melbourne hooker Harry Grant to score.
There was plenty of muscularity and intensity about much of the work by the Vodafone Warriors’ forwards while halves Lino and Hingano produced a number of quality moments as well.
Particularly memorable for the home side was an inspired defensive shift midway through the third quarter when the Vodafone Warriors, and especially their left edge, were under the pump fending off repeat sets on their line. They handled the challenge well (including a great shot put on by Anthony Gelling) before eventually forcing an error from which the Vodafone Warriors transitioned onto attack and ultimately delivered the ideal reward for the hard work with Soosemea’s try.
While the Storm were without their front-line players who had appeared in the World Club Challenge clash against Leeds on Friday night, the Vodafone Warriors were also well down on established personnel. Among those missing were Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Adam Blair, Tohu Harris, Shaun Johnson, Simon Mannering, Blake Green, Issac Luke, Gerard Beale, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete and Nathaniel Roache.
A feature of the match was the referees' stringent policing of the play the ball. The referees have been directed to tidy up this area of the game; for some time now any number of players have been guilty of rolling the ball back without raking it, or heeling it, back with the foot as the law requires. Of the 19 penalties served up in Rotorua, a significant number were for incorrect play the balls.
The Vodafone Warriors now prepare for their final trial against Gold Coast on the Sunshine Coast next Saturday when Kearney will be looking to use his strongest available side.
The club’s Intrust Super Premiership and Jersey Flegg (under-20) squads have trials in Auckland tomorrow.
MATCH DETAILS | ROTORUA INTERNATIONAL STADIUM
Vodafone Warriors 20 (Solomone Kata, David Fusitu’a, Ligi Sao, Lewis Soosemea tries; Mason Lino 2 conversions).
Melbourne Storm 14 (Matt Sopa-Lawler, Harry Grant tries; Scott Drinkwater conversion).
Halftime: 10-4 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Gavin Reynolds, Liam Kennedy.
Vodafone Warriors | Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad; Ken Maumalo, Solomone Kata, Peta Hiku, David Fusitu'a; Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Mason Lino (c); Agnatius Paasi, Sam Cook, Chris Satae; Leivaha Pulu, Ligi Sao; James Gavet. Interchange: Blake Ayshford, Joe Vuna, Matiu Love-Henry, Isaiah Papali'i, Hayze Perham, Anthony Gelling, Jazz Tevaga, Bunty Afoa, Chanel Harris-Tavita.