On a day set aside to celebrate the life of Sonny Fai, South Sydney came to Mt Smart Stadium and upstaged the New Zealand Warriors with a hard fought 22-16 win. The Warriors led for all bar the last twelve minute, when despite being out of interchanges and having done sixty more tackles than their opponents, Souths came home the stronger.
The first ten minutes was end to end stuff, with both teams having their chances. In the fifth minute Ben Lowe went close for Souths, but lost the ball due to Aidan Kirk getting a hand to the ball and ripping it free, only a metre out from the Warriors line.
The Warriors two starting props, Sam Rapira and Russel Packer were making good ground in the absence of the injured Steve Price.
The eight minute comes along and the Warriors are on attack when Stacey Jones chip kicks on the last tackle. A Souths player gets a touch but loses the ball and Jones regathers and heads for the right side and passes to Patrick Ah Van who off-loads to Aidan Kirk who dives over in the corner to open the scoring for the Warriors. Denam Kemp converts and the Warriors are leading 6-0.
During the twelfth minute the Warriors once again attack Souths goal line and force a goal line drop-out. From the ensuing play, Russel Packer make good ground and off-loads in the tackle to Wade McKinnon who passes to Henderson who hands over the ball to stand in skipper, Michael Luck to dive over next too the posts. Once again Kemp converts and the Warriors have a handy 12-0 lead.
Eighteen minutes have passed by and Souths are awarded a penalty and head into the enemies twenty. Chris Sandow puts fullback Luke capewell into a gap who scores to bring the score to 12-6 after Sandow also converts.
Shortly after Souths lose the ball in a one on one tackle by Ian Henderson, and then proceed to attack. They lose a golden opportunity to score again when McKinnon is put into a gap but cannot hold onto the ball only two metres out from the Souths goal line. This proves to be costly as Souths then race up the field going from side to side when John Sutton kicks through for winger Manikinowa, who is brought down without the ball, not allowing him a scoring chance. Video Referee Chris Ward decides quite rightly to award Souths a penalty try and scores are level at 12-12 after 25 minutes.
Both sides go close over the next thirteen minutes, but in the 38th minute after being awarded a penalty, Stacey Jones off-loads to McKinnon who crashes over for a four pointer. The warriors are leading 16-12 and this is how it stays until half-time.
The Warriors, despite having the better of the possession in the second half could not convert this into points. Kirk was taken over the sideline on tackle one in the 47th minute as he was diving for the try line.
And again in the 58th minute the Warriors had another chance after Nathan Fien make a break of another Packer off-load. Jones then put up a bomb which was tapped down by Kirk for Jacob Lillyman to grab and dive over to score. But, alas not. The video ref ruled the try out as Kirk had knocked the ball forward.
The warriors continued to put severe pressure on the South Sydney defence, but it held up extremely well.
The minute between the 66th and 68th happens along, with the Warriors once more on attack. Jones on the last tackle, puts a bomb up for Kirk, but instead Souths winger Talinoa comes down with the ball, and much to the dismay of the 19000 strong crowd, not to mention the Warriors players, decides to unmolested, make haste with tremendous anticipation of greener pastures and a better way of life at the other end of the field. He propels his body mass along the western touch line and upon arriving in the promised land, finds that the wingers natural habitat is not possessed with predators and goes around to score underneath the horizontal bar. Sandow converts and Souths take the lead for the first time in the match, 18-16.
In the 72nd minute Nathan Merritt scores a unconverted try to take the score to 22-16
The Warriors still have a sniff but to no avail as Souths hold them out for the final eight minutes.
In a hard fought and thoroughly entertaining game of football, the Warriors fallen comrade Sonny Fai would have been proud of the eighty minute effort displayed by his teammates. A understrength Warriors team would have lost this by a wider margin last season, but a combination of wanting to do something special for Fai and the fact that they are clearly a better football team this season kept them in the game.
Warriors coach, Ivan Clearly would be concerned at the number of chances his team had but were not able to convert into points, but despite this, there was still alot to be positive about.
Despite being without normal skipper Price, Rapira and in particular Russel Packer proved they are shaping up as top class props and will be very able replacements for Price when he eventually retires. Packer especially looks to be the real deal, and has a big future ahead of him, considering he is only twenty. He made metres consistently all match and looks set to become the Warriors top prop in coming years.
In the backs Wade McKinnon had his strongest game since returning from last years knee operation. With Tate out for the season and Vatevei likely to be out for another few weeks, the Warriors desperately need McKinnon at his best.
Patrick Ah Van was busy at centre, particuly in helping his forwards out on their own line and made the last pass to put Kirk over for his teams first try, but it remains to be seen if he is the answer as Brent Tates replacement for the season.
Lance Hohaia remains an option in this position as well.