Auckland, New Zealand, March 26, 2000 – Stacey Jones produced a virtuoso performance in his comeback from a long-term injury break to inspire the Vodafone Warriors to an outstanding 26-22 win over the Sydney Roosters at Ericsson Stadium.
Jones had been side-lined after having his arm broken in the Kiwis’ Test against Tonga at Carlaw Park in October.
His return couldn’t come soon enough after he missed the opening seven rounds.
The Mark Graham-coached Vodafone Warriors had started the season outstandingly with a 14-6 win over defending premiers the Melbourne Storm but then had a run of five losses and a draw going into the Storm clash. In their last three outings they’d been trounced 56-12 in Canberra, went down 24-31 away to Penrith and slumped to a heavy home loss to St George Illawarra (8-36).
To say the Vodafone Warriors were desperate for a turnaround in fortunes was an understatement. With a crowd of only a little more than 11,000 on hand, Jones carried a huge weight of expectation that he would provide the missing spark.
That he did. In bucket loads.
In the 16th minute he engaged the line, delivering a delightful short ball for a rampant Ali Lauitiiti to surge 30 metres for a superb try. Cue the crowd to go berserk.
Four minutes later it was John Simon playing provider for Logan Swann when the Vodafone Warriors went to their left. The conversion gave the home side a 12-6 lead before the Roosters struck twice in the closing minutes of the first half to lead 18-14.
It was Jones who again made his mark on the contest in the 54th minute. After Joe Vagana had powered up off a goal-line dropout restart, an electric dart at the line all but carried Jones to the line only to find a desperate Bryan Fletcher clinging to his jersey with one hand. He stood, found Terry Hermansson on his inside shoulder and the big prop juggled before thundering over to give the Vodafone Warriors a 20-18 advantage.
The Roosters immediately rebounded with a contentious Anthony Minichiello try to leave the battle on edge at 22-20 to the visitors. It was advantage Roosters after a Brad Fittler 40-20 from the restart but they coughed up possession early in the tackle count.
The Vodafone Warriors went back downfield, won a penalty near the line, Jones tapping quickly and laying a try on for fullback Cliff Beverley for a 26-22 lead. It would be the match winner although the Vodafone Warriors had to defend the lead under real pressure for 18 minutes before celebrating the Jones-inspired triumph.
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 26 (Ali Lauitiiti, Logan Swann, Terry Hermansson, Cliff Beverley tries; John Simon 4 conversions, pernalty).
Sydney Roosters 22 (Craig Fitzgibbon, Ian Rubin, Luke Phillips, Anthony Minichiello tries; Luke Phillips 2 conversions; Craig Fitzgibbon penalty).
Halftime: 18-14 Roosters.
Referee: Tony Archer.
Vodafone Warriors: Cliff Beverley; Shontayne Hape, David Myles, Nigel Vagana, Lee Oudenryn; John Simon (c), Stacey Jones; Joe Vagana, Robert Mears, Terry Hermansson; Logan Swann, Ali Lauitiiti; Jason Death. Interchange: Monty Betham, Henry Fa’afili, Tony Tuimavave, Jerry Seuseu.
Sydney Roosters: Luke Phillips; Richie Barnett, Shannon Hegarty, Matt Sing, Anthony Minichiello; Brad Fittler (c), Adrian Lam; Ian Rubin, Simon Bonetti, Nelson Lomi; Bryan Fletcher, Craig Fitzgibbon; Shane Rigon. Interchange: Luke Ricketson, David Solomona, Craig Wing, Dallas Hood.