Pretty to watch, it wasn’t. What it was, though, was a gutsy display by the New Zealand Warriors today at Mt Smart Stadium in their 22-10 victory over the Newcastle Knights.
Leading the way for the home side was Manu Vatuvei with a hat-trick to secure a unanimous points decision over his opposite number, Aquila Uate, in their eagerly anticipated match-up. Three tries for Vatuvei today, three for left wing Bill Tupou- who chimed in with one today- last week; what is it with these wingers, haven’t they heard that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins? Mind you, certainly Coach Ivan Cleary will be encouraging them to keep committing sins of such magnitude if this is to be the result each week.
That Vatuvei has now scored twenty-three tries in his last twenty outings leaves no room for doubt that without him the Warriors job each week would be significantly more difficult. It most surely would have been today without The Beast as Newcastle came with their minds well and truly on the job. Needing to win to have any hope of remaining in the hunt for a final’s spot, they threw all they had at the locals.
In the end it wasn’t enough, but, they were in the match for the majority of the eighty minutes.
The Warriors were once again strong on defence, but didn’t fire up on attack particularly well. Added to the mix were some handling errors that were out of character, as well as basics of the game such as finding touch from penalties, which on one particular occasion in the case of James Maloney, did not happen.
That said though, the sign of a good team is one that may be off their game against a desperate opposition, yet still finds a way to win. Which the Warriors duly showed they could achieve.
That strong defence was what kept them in the match early on, as Newcastle- helped by a strong northerly- hammered away at the Warriors goal line. The home side, though, toughed those opening minutes out before forcing the Knights onto the defensive. With the help of a penalty, and hot on attack in the Knights twenty, Brett Seymour sent the attack to the left side to Lance Hohaia who worked his magic with a tremendous cut out pass to Vatuvei. With Vatuvei’s innate ability to sense the opposing team’s try line, along with the added help of one hundred and ten kilo’s of pure beast to throw around, he barged his way into Newcastle’s in-goal area for the opening gambit.
4-nil ahead into a strong breeze was a satisfactory start to the day’s proceedings for the Warriors. What was not on their list of things to do, though, was to concede a try. But this they did nine minutes later in the 26th minute when former Warrior Cooper Vuna, on the first tackle, surprised the Warriors defence by getting on their outside and majestically storming his way down the left touchline on a forty metre escapade that ended with him diving over in the left corner for the equaliser.
Neither of the teams’ goal kickers in Maloney and Kurt Gidley were having any luck dealing with the strong wind. That was to change in the 37th minute when Maloney converted Vatuvei’s second try.
A 10-4 lead going into half-time was a solid effort for the Warriors considering the wind they were playing into. With the wind at their backs in the second half, one may have been tempted to think that they would run away with the match and assemble a rather large victory.
Unfortunately for them it didn’t occur that way. Instead it was the Knights who were the first to enter into the scoring fray when the Warriors usually reliable defence drifted into a temporary slumber, as Richie Fa’osoa offloaded in the tackle to Daniel Tolar, who dotted down under the crossbar. With the conversion, the score was shackled at 10-all and the match was there for the taking.
It was the Warriors who decided to take the bull by the horns and gather some momentum. With a 55th minute penalty goal to Maloney, and slowly getting the better of the Knights having dominated possession for the five minutes, they were able to put Vatuvei over in the left corner in the 63rd minute for his third try.
Twelve minutes later, they put the finishing touches on the match to seal the win with a try to Tupou. What it also sealed was the likelihood of Newcastle missing out on final’s football for 2010 despite some good form over the last six weeks.
For the Warriors, they showed they can win matches with their defence.
They also showed how to win ugly. It’s those types of performances that build character for finals football.