They may have left it late but two tries in the closing stages have given the North Sydney Bears a well-earned 22-6 Canterbury Cup victory over the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.
Both sides had to contend with awful conditions but it was a commanding second half that got the North Sydney side home.
It took only two minutes for the home side to get on the board though, with makeshift fullback Setu Tu taking advantage of a piggyback penalty and then some slack ruck defence to bust over near the posts.
Captain Hayze Perham took over the kicking duties and converted. That would, however, be the last time the Vodafone Warriors would trouble the scorers.
From there, the game became an absolute slog as both sides committed error after error. While the conditions weren’t helping, there was no excuse for the shoddy discipline both with ball in hand and keeping a decent 10 metres on defence.
While the Vodafone Warriors didn’t threaten the line again in the first half, Fred Lussick went close for the Bears in the 25th minute. The hooker darted from dummy half to get over the line only to be held up.
A penalty on the last play of the half for offside gave Billy Smith a chance to finally get the Bears on the board. He struck the ball from 30 metres out straight in front but shanked it wide, which was a fitting end to a painful half to watch.
Whatever Jason Taylor said at halftime certainly had the desired effect for the Bears, though.
They started strongly by forcing two consecutive line drop outs, which eventually opened up space for Smith to bust into the line and get a pass away for Kieran Moss to dive over in the corner. While it appeared that Moss had pulled off a miraculous finish, replays confirmed that the fullback had benefited from the touch judge missing his foot grazing the touchline before the ball was planted.
This time Smith’s kick was on target, and not long after a late shot on Brad Dietz gave him a chance to give the Bears the lead. Smith knocked over the penalty goal from close to the posts and, just like that, the Bears were in front by 8-6.
The Bears were now firmly in control of proceedings, and it wasn’t long before another penalty goal by Smith extended their lead. Their safety-first approach was clearly the best way option and the accurate kicking of Deitz and Brad Hutchinson kept the Vodafone Warriors pinned in their own half until well after the hour mark.
The home side finally got themselves a bit of field position after a couple of Bears handling mistakes and a kick from Sean Mullany forced a line drop out.
However, they couldn’t crack the resilient Bears, who had the finish line firmly in their sights and weren’t about to let their slender lead slip heading into the last 10 minutes. Deitz almost sealed the deal in the 70th minute when he crossed the line from dummy half, but lost the ball forward.
With six minutes to go, though, the dagger came from the Bears.
Hutchinson popped a very dubious short ball to Egan Butcher, and the big second rower smashed his way through on an angle to score. Smith once again was on target with the kick, and in the dying stages Jerry Key dived on a kick through to push the final score out to a comfortable margin for the Bears.
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 6 (Setu Tu try; Hayzer Perham conversion).
North Sydney Bears 22 (Kieren Moss, Egan Butcher, Jerry Key tries; Billy Smith 3 conversions, 2 penalties).
Halftime: 6-0 Bears.
Vodafone Warriors | Setu Tu; Lewis Soosemea, Patrick Herbert, Kayal Iro, Edward Kosi; Hayze Perham, Paul Turner; King Vuniyayawa, Tyler Slade, Jackson Frei; Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Leivaha Pulu; Josh Curran. Interchange: Sean Mullany, Preston Riki, Phillip Makatoa, Tom Ale.