Manu Vatuvei’s name is becoming synonymous with the opposing teams in-goal area. Last week he picked up a double; this week it was a hat trick. What next Manu? Maybe go for a quad of tries or will you be sharing this try scoring caper around a little. His coach Ivan Cleary certainly will be hoping he continues his rich vein of try scoring form.
His three tries were part of a six try scoring fest that kept the 15,314 fans happy that turned up at Mt Smart Stadium tonight to see the New Zealand Warriors subdue an average Cronulla Sharks outfit, thirty points to sixteen.
The only negative to come from the match was the way, that after having procured a 16-nil lead after only seventeen minutes, the Warriors allowed Cronulla back into the game to level the score at sixteen a piece at half-time.
The first quarter of the match was dominated by the Warriors, due to a 68% share of possession. They put it to good use, too. On the back of a penalty, the Warriors forged their way into enemy territory in the 6th minute and found themselves only five metres out from Cronulla’s goal line. Aaron Herimia, in another stand out performance after last week’s fine effort against the Gold Coast, scooted through some paper thin defence to score ten metres wide of the goalpost. Kevin Locke missed the conversion, but it didn’t take long before the Warriors were back in a try scoring mood. Not surprising really, considering possession was still well in their favour.
Which brings us back to Vatuvei. For it was he who scored their second try, after Lewis Brown had busted open the Shark’s left side defence and off-loaded to Locke. The ball then passed through the hands of various Warriors players as they swiftly navigated their way over to the their left side attack, where new Captain Simon Mannering came into possession of the football only to have to give it away to Jerome Ropati who then passed to Vatuvei on the inside, who barged over ten metres in from the sideline. This time Locke did convert to give his side a 10-0 lead.
Things were looking good for the Warriors, and it only got better in the 18th minute when Mannering chased a Lance Hohaia grubber kick through to force the ball down only inches inside the dead ball line. With the conversion came a 16-0 lead and it was looking like the Warriors would romp away with the match.
But, this is the Warriors, remember. If there is a chance to let the opposition back into the game, they will give it a mighty good go. They did a fine job of helping the momentum of the match swing by giving away six consecutive penalties. Which certainly enhanced the Shark’s opportunities to score the points required to get themselves back in the match. And this they did, initially through a Luke Covell try out wide, which was converted by Scott Porter.
Then, in the 34th minute, the sharks kicked high on the last tackle and Blake Ferguson out leaped Vatuvei to bring the score back to 16-10. Porter once again converted and it was a four point game, not to mention, game on.
Even more so after Porter kicked two penalty goals in the closing stages of the half to level the score at 16-all. Which was a good result for Cronulla, in light of their lack of possession early in the contest. Ivan Cleary would have been furious, though, having seen such a promising start and sixteen point lead squandered.
He needn’t have worried, though, as possession in the third quarter headed back in the Warriors direction. This led to the Warriors being hot on attack in the 48th minute, as James Maloney dived for the try line, only to be obstructed and harassed by the goal post padding. So they went to their left side attack, instead. And who else was there waiting? Yep, you guessed it... Manu “The Beast” Vatuvei. He gratefully accepted the invitation to put a dent in the Cronulla defence which he gleefully did, carrying three defenders with him as he barged his way over to score his second try and give his side a four point lead. It would have been six, but Herimia missed the conversion.
Things got worse for Cronulla over the next five minutes, as the Warriors had 94% of possession in this time. The Shark’s did their best to stop their foe from having a jolly holly good time. But do you think they succeeded? That’ll be the day. And it was due to the ever present Vatuvei, who just happened to be on hand as his side spread the ball wide to his wing for Vatuvei to secure his hat-trick. Herimia, one would imagine, approved of the try, just not the position it was scored in, as he had to attempt the conversion. He missed. Still, the Warriors had an eight point buffer and Cronulla didn’t look like seriously challenging their line.
And that is the way it turned out as Cronulla, despite putting in a spirited defensive effort, could not score again. The Warriors did though. In the 35th minute, Sam Rapira dived over to score under the crossbar. With the conversion to Maloney, the Warriors had helped themselves to a 30-16 victory to get their first win of the season.
A solid effort too, it was. Despite letting Cronulla back into the match in the second quarter, they dominated possession for the majority of the match, and looked likely to do something with it. Unlike last season, their trimmed down playing staff seem to be able to make line breaks. With much better support play, they are now giving themselves a better chance of finishing off the initial break. The likes of Vatuvei are reaping the awards of this better functioning attack.
What is even more impressive about it is that it is coming off the back of good go forward from their young props, in the form of Sam Rapira and Russell Packer. Steve Price is still out with a heel injury.
While there is still a long way to go, and Cronulla are one of the weaker sides in the competition, the Warriors have showed that they are on the improve from last season’s dismal effort.
Manu Vatuvei, for one, is definitely enjoying his team’s improved attacking fortitude.