A wet and wild night at Shark Park, a gruelling contest, an extraordinary Michael Witt conversion and a season-defining Vodafone Warriors win provide the background to this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday (presented by Mazda).
The back story to this 2007 clash has so many strands.
Not least was the weather, Sydney being pummelled by a fierce mid-winter storm as the Vodafone Warriors and Cronulla Sutherland went into this Saturday night battle in ghastly conditions far from conducive to entertaining football. It certainly wasn’t appealing to fans who stayed away in their droves with a crowd on just 4202 posted.
In truth it was always likely to be slugfest for the Vodafone Warriors whatever the weather. Such was the norm when tangling with the Sharks and, on this occasion, even more so given the Vodafone Warriors’ predicament.
At the halfway stage of the season they had won just four of their first 12 games having lost their last six on end. The run had started with a 20-22 defeat by the Sharks in Auckland followed by losses to Newcastle (18-24), Wests Tigers (26-30), Parramatta (6-30), Canterbury Bankstown (20-24) and Melbourne (2-4) a week earlier in what is still the NRL’s record lowest-scoring match.
Another sub-plot surrounded Manu Vatuvei who had a nightmare outing in the loss to the Eels just three weeks earlier and had been rested the following week as a result.
So, it followed that the match settled into an arm wrestle with the conditions dictating terms.
An early converted Michael Witt try had been answered by a Luke Covell penalty leaving the score 6-2 at halftime and still the same for almost the complete second half. There was tension galore, the Vodafone Warriors needing rare levels of resilience to counter not just the Sharks and playing into the wind but also coping with a penalty count which favoured the home side 10-5.
Only inside the last three minutes were the Vodafone Warriors able to put the result beyond doubt, dummy half Nathan Fien poking through a grubber from close to Cronulla’s line for Vatuvei to pounce for a try. It would come to mean everything in terms of the club’s campaign and also personally for the big winger as he began his redemption from the Parramatta disaster. The scenes of elation among the players underlined what that moment meant on both counts.
The icing, though, was Witt’s wondrous conversion as he lined the ball up facing the teeth of the gale, bending the kick in from well out to the left between the posts for a 12-2 score-line. The commentary on the kick was just as good.
If Witt’s kick was incredible so was captain Steve Price’s contribution. Only three days after helping Queensland to a 10-6 State of Origin win he produced an astounding performance by running and running all night, carrying the ball 31 times for 306 metres, then a record for a forward in an NRL match.
The match ignited the Vodafone Warriors’ season, setting them up for run home of nine wins, a draw and just two losses in their last 12 games to vault from 13th after 12 rounds to fourth at the end of the regular season.
June 16, 2007
Shark Park, Sydney
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks 2 (Luke Covell penalty).
Vodafone Warriors 12 (Michael Witt, Manu Vatuvei tries; Michael Witt 2 conversions).
Halftime: 6-2 Warriors.
Referee: Gavin Badger.
Vodafone Warriors | Wade McKinnon, Patrick Ah Van, Todd Byrne, Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei; Michael Witt, Grant Rovelli; Evarn Tuimavave, George Gatis, Steve Price (c); Logan Swann, Louis Anderson; Micheal Luck. Interchange: Nathan Fien, Sam Rapira, Wairangi Koopu, Epalahame Lauaki.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks |David Simmons; Misi Taulapapa, Ben Pomeroy, Reece Williams, Luke Covell; Adam Dykes, Brett Kimmorley (c); Luke Douglas, Kevin Kingston, Craig Stapleton; Paul Gallen, Dayne Weston; Greg Bird. Interchange: Jacob Selmes, Phillip Leuluai, Henry Perenara, Isaac de Gois.