The Vodafone Warriors have opened their 2018 Intrust Super Premiership NSW season with a win, defeating the North Sydney Bears 30-22 in a tight tussle at Mount Smart Stadium.
Played in autumn sunshine in Auckland, both teams were looking to give their respective new coaches a win, with former NRL player Shane Millard taking the reins at North Sydney and John Teina recently promoted from assistant coach for the home side.
The home side got off to a keen start, threatening the Bears’ line with back-to-back sets. An early penalty gave the Bears good field position, and in their first real attacking opportunity, the ball was spread wide to winger Mawene Hiroti to open the scoring in the eighth minute.
In the 13th minute, following some heavy hits, the Vodafone Warriors forced a repeat set, and mirrored the Bears’ earlier play, with winger Lewis Soosemea diving over in the corner after picking up the ball off his bootlaces.
The Bears consistently created overlaps down each edge, bending the defensive line and spinning out of tackles. Poor discipline from the home side then gave the Bears multiple opportunities at the line, with fullback Braidon Burns crossing for the visitors’ second try down the right edge. Soon after, Tyrell Fuimaono gathered a bouncing kick down the left wing, and after an in-goal juggle, scored the Bears’ third try.
Soon after, Vodafone Warriors debutant fullback Hayze Perham zig-zagged across the 10-metre line, hitting a fast-running Chanel Harris-Tavita on the chest, who scored under the bar. Minutes later, captain James Bell crossed, and the goalpost denied the Warriors the chance to equalise with the conversion attempt.
The first half was punctuated by speed from Dean Hawkins and Hiroti, and straight, hard running from Vodafone Warriors forwards Patrick Sipley and late inclusion Agnatius Paasi.
The second 40 opened with the Vodafone Warriors testing the Bears’ defence, but their final tackle options were uninspired. Penalties and field position were traded for 20 minutes but neither side were able to convert as misguided passes and touches of fatigue set in.
With 18 minutes remaining, Fuimaono was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, and the Vodafone Warriors chose to take the two points, levelling the score at 16-16. With the man advantage, Soosemea soon crossed for two more tries, to complete his hat-trick, showing fancy footwork and a turn of speed.
Testament to the tit-for-tat nature of the game, the Bears rallied with a try to Vincent Leuluai with nine minutes remaining. The Vodafone Warriors then added two points after the Bears were penalised for a strip, requiring the Bears to score twice to level. The home side retained possession and ran the clock down to emerge victorious.
Overall, there were promises of flair on attack, but execution will be something for both groups to look to improve as the season progresses. Looking ahead, the Vodafone Warriors play at home again next week against the Bulldogs, while the Bears take on the Panthers in Round 2.
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 30 (Lewis Soosemea 3, Chanel Harris-Tavita, James Bell tries; Chanel Harris-Tavita 3 conversions, 2 penalties).
North Sydney Bears 22 (Mawene Hiroti, Braidon Burns, Amanaki Veamatahau, Vincent Leuluai tries; Dean Hawkins 3 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors | 1 Hayze Perham; 2 Lewis Soosemea, 3 Joseph Vuna, 4 Cole Waaka, 5 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad; 6 Chanel Harris-Tavita, 7 Tevin Arona; 16 Agnatius Passi, 9 Karl Lawton, 10 Chris Satae; 11 Matiu Love-Henry, 12 James Bell (c); 13 Sione Afemui. Interchange: 8 Patrick Sipley, 14 Manaia Cherrington, 15 Trent Schaumkel, 17 Reece Charlie.