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Fish flies in historic match in Taupo

Taupo, New Zealand, April 3, 2011 – Glen Fisiiahi delivered a man of the match two-try display in his first appearance at fullback as the Vodafone Warriors ended a three-match losing sequence with a 26-18 win over Cronulla in today’s historic first NRL match played at Owen Delany Park in Taupo.

After making his first-grade debut on the wing in the season-opening loss against Parramatta on March 12, the 20-year-old Fisiiahi was recalled to start at fullback today replacing veteran Kiwi international Lance Hohaia.

Fisiiahi could scarcely have hoped for a better start when he finished off a dazzling long-range raid in just the third minute.

It came as captain Simon Mannering’s off load released another recalled player Bill Tupou on the right-hand touchline. When the cover converged Tupou found Fisiiahi in support, the try-line open. There were some flutters as Fisiiahi juggled Tupou’s pass before securing it to race away for his first NRL try, giving the Vodafone Warriors the perfect opening statement as they looked to rectify the disappointing start to their 2011 season.

It didn’t last too long as a repeat set after a penalty yielded a try for Cronulla’s Kiwi international Jeremy Smith when the Vodafone Warriors’ goal-line defence was caught out near the posts.

While a James Maloney penalty gave the so-called ‘away’ team an 8-6 edge a few minutes later, three errors gave the Sharks a run of possession and position before a repeat set off a penalty again provided a try, this time to halfback Wade Graham who found a comfortable passage to the goal-line. It gave the Sharks a 12-8 lead they held at the break.

While there were still some unwanted and unforced errors in the Vodafone Warriors’ game in the early stages of the second half, the Sharks, after completing 16 of 18 sets in the first half, began to wilt in the face of the defensive pressure exerted; so much so, they completed only five of their first 11 sets in the second half, a statistic which had a major influence on the shape of the contest.

During that time, the Vodafone Warriors scored twice, first in the 51st minute through Fisiiahi again when, directly from a scrum, the ball was shifted quickly to the fleet-footed fullback who stepped through the defensive line effortlessly to score close to the posts. With Maloney’s conversion, the Vodafone Warriors were back in front 14-12.

Nine minutes later they were out to 20-12 after Shaun Berrigan, who had just been moved in from the centres to hooker, created a try-scoring opening for Maloney which he gleefully accepted. There was a fair degree of deliberation from video referee Bernard Sutton as he seemed to do his best to find a case of obstruction surrounding Russell Packer’s involvement in the lead-up. Ultimately it came to nothing and the Vodafone Warriors had put themselves in position to work towards their first victory of the season.

There was inevitably some anxiety over the next few minutes before the outcome became even more likely following another sizzling try.

This time standoff Feleti Mateo popped an off load that stuck, making a probing run at the line and then finding Fisiiahi on his right hip with a perfect ball.

The fullback shot clear but couldn’t quite out-manoeuvre his opposite Nathan Gardner. It mattered not because, on the next tackle, the Vodafone Warriors went left, Lewis Brown going on an arcing run which teased Cronulla’s defence until he dropped off a nice ball to Krisnan Inu. He stepped and jinked his way to the line to get the ball down for his second try for the club. Maloney’s conversion stretched the lead to a healthy 26-12.

A platform was there to finish it off but instead the Vodafone Warriors almost immediately conceded a John Williams try as he finished off a sweeping attack. Fortunately for the previously winless Aucklanders there would be no more as they defended their eight-point lead to get their campaign under way.

While this was a match Cronulla had brought to New Zealand, most of the healthy crowd of 14,645 were undeniably moved to support the Vodafone Warriors. As much was evident whenever coach Ivan Cleary emerged in the grandstand as he made his way to or from the coaches’ box. Each time he was given a real ovation, even more so at the end of the match.

The outcome of the contest provided satisfaction for the coaching staff not just because of the result but also the way the reshuffled line-up worked despite some flaws here and there.

Fisiiahi, voted the players’ player of the day afterwards, was an obvious standout. He made almost 150 metres from 14 carries, five tackle breaks, two line breaks and no errors. Also impressive among the younger brigade was debutant Elijah Taylor, who finally had his first NRL game after injury denied him as long ago as the 2009 season.

He was required a lot earlier than planned, coming on for loose forward Micheal Luck just 19 minutes into the game when Luck had to leave the field with another cut. Taylor was one of the busiest defenders on the day, making 30 tackles.

Making the most metres – 219 from 15 runs – was winger Krisnan Inu who also made nine tackle breaks and two line breaks. Mateo saw a lot of the ball again – 41 receives – and made 123 metres from 15 runs while prop Jacob Lillyman, one of the side’s best players, gained 100 metres from 15 runs and the consistently outstanding Lewis Brown carried the ball 19 times for 148 metres.

The NRL win rounded out a clean sweep of successes. The Vodafone Warriors and Vodafone Junior Warriors both won against the Sharks as did the Auckland Vulcans – featuring a number of Vodafone Warriors – as they beat the Windsor Wolves 40-22 in the New South Wales Cup on Saturday.

The Vodafone Warriors now prepare to face the Sydney Roosters next Saturday night. The Roosters followed successive losses to Manly and Canterbury-Bankstown with a 24-6 win against Wests Tigers today.

Match details:

At Owen Delany Park, Taupo

Vodafone Warriors 26 (Glen Fisiiahi 2, James Maloney, Krisnan Inu tries; James Maloney 4 conversions, penalty).

Cronulla Sharks 18 (Jeremy Smith, Wade Graham, John Williams tries; John Williams 3 conversions).

Halftime: 12-8 Sharks.

Referees: Gavin Badger and Brett Suttor.

Crowd: 14,645.

Vodafone Warriors: Glen Fisiiahi; Bill Tupou, Shaun Berrigan, Simon Mannering (c), Krisnan Inu; Feleti Mateo, James Maloney; Jacob Lillyman, Aaron Heremaia, Russell Packer; Lewis Brown, Ukuma Ta’ai; Micheal Luck. Interchange: Kevin Locke, Sam Rapira, Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor.