Vodafone Warriors veteran Blake Ayshford ended his Canterbury Cup career with try in a 24-20 win over Western Suburbs in Saturday's final regular season match at Mount Smart Stadium.
The result wasn't to propel his side into the finals with Wentworthville beating South Sydney later in the day to seal a spot in the playoffs.
Wests ensured the home side had to work overtime with a try in only the third minute of the match.
A smart dart from hooker Felix Smith gave Max Burey enough room to loop a beautiful pass out for winger Liam Scolari to cross in the corner. Kauri Aupouri-Puketapu’s conversion put the visitors up 6-0 and they continued to dominate possession.
An Aupouri-Puketapu bomb managed to land in between three Vodafone Warriors players and end up in the half’s hands which gave Wests a great chance but they couldn’t convert the pressure into points.
Slowly, the home side managed to wrestle its way back into the game.
They Vodafone Jones enjoyed a slice of good luck when an intercept near the line was dropped by Wests winger Harry O’Toole and then hooker Tyler Slade popped a perfect short ball to a rampant Bunty Afoa to score next to the posts.
The Vodafone Warriors should’ve been in again soon after but Taane Milne’s effort in reaching the line was rubbed out due to an obstruction.
Standoff Hayze Perham was the victim of an unlucky collision with eight minutes to go in the half, hitting his head on the hip of one of his teammates and staying down for a long injury break. The experienced half was stretchered off the field, taking no more part in the game. It was precautionary with Perham later cleared of any injury.
By the time play did restart, light rain had began to fall. Adam Keighran took advantage of the slippery conditions and put a kick through for Setu Tu to pounce on and put the Vodafone Warriors ahead.
While the they started the second half brightly, with Phillip Makatoa just losing the ball over the line, the Magpies were the first to score through a great run by Watson Heleta.
Keighran was very roughly adjudged to have connected with his knees as Heleta scored, so Aupouri-Puketapu was awarded two shots at goal and Wests took the lead 14-12.
From there though, the game disintegrated into a series of errors from both sides.
Paul Turner had a fantastic chance when he broke down the right wing but nudged his kick just too far ahead over the goal line and it went dead.
The turning point came not long after, though.
Keighran made up for his earlier penalty with a 40/20 and Leivaha Pulu cut back off the ensuing tap to score next to the posts.
Then came the fairy tale moment with 10 minutes to go, as the skipper for the day Ayshford benefited from a quick play the ball to cross out wide.
It proved to be the crucial try that gave the Vodafone Warriors a 10 point lead.
Wests hit back with a spectacular finish by Heleta to get his second and then launched a stunning attack off the kickoff but the Vodafone Warriors were able to hold on for the last four minutes.
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 24 (Bunty Afoa, Setu Tu, Leivaha Pulu, Blake Ayshford tries; Adam Keighran 4 conversions).
Western Suburbs Magpies 20 (Watson Heleta 2, Liam Scolari tries; Kauri Aupouri-Puketapu 3 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 12-6 Vodafone Warriors.
Vodafone Warriors | Paul Turner; Lewis Soosemea, Taane Milne, Blake Ayshford, Setu Tu; Hayze Perham, Adam Keighran; Bunty Afoa, Tyler Slade, Jackson Frei; Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Leivaha Pulu; Josh Curran. Interchange: King Vuniyayawa, Sean Mullany, Preston Riki, Phillip Makatoa.