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Vatuvei closes in on 100 NRL tries

Winger Manu Vatuvei moved within three tries of becoming the first Warriors player to score 100 NRL tries when he secured a double in the 30-16 over Penrith in appalling conditions at Centrebet Stadium.
Vatuvei closes in on 100 NRL tries
by NRL

Winger Manu Vatuvei moved within three tries of becoming the first Warriors player to score 100 NRL tries when he secured a double in the 30-16 over Penrith in appalling conditions at Centrebet Stadium.

But for a contentious video referee's decision he would have had a hat-trick and been just two short of the landmark as the Vodafone Warriors secured their sixth win in 13 matches to move back to ninth spot on the points table, two outside the top eight.

The giant winger had two tries in the opening 17 minutes both courtesy of Shaun Johnson kicks, enabling the Vodafone Warriors to make yet another strong start as they had against both Wests Tigers and Melbourne in their previous two matches.

The first try came in the 10th minute as Penrith fullback Lachlan Coote spilled a high kick behind his own line, the chasing Vatuvei swooping to force the loose ball for his sixth try of the season.

Seven minutes later the Johnson-Vatuvei struck again.

Receiving a penalty - one of only two they were awarded all night - the Vodafone Warriors made ground towards the posts via the outstanding Ben Matulino. A second charge followed from the similarly impressive Russell Packer; he squeezed an off load out to Alehana Mara, who quickly linked with Johnson. Way out on the left edge Vatuvei signalled for a kick, Johnson obliging with a beautifully weighted grubber for the big man to surge through for his seventh try in 13 games this season and his 97th in his 145th appearance.

The 12-0 lead should have been the ideal base to build a commanding performance on but instead the Vodafone Warriors surrendered their advantage in a concerning period between the 27th and 35th minutes. In no time Penrith was able to snare a trio of tries to charge into a 16-12 lead they took into the halftime break.

The Vodafone Warriors hadn't been helped by another injury setback when they lost their starting hooker Alehana Mara with an ankle injury in the opening minutes, pressing Lewis Brown into the role for virtually the entire match.

Despite losing Mara and the rough patch which let Penrith back into the contest, the second half would produce one of the Vodafone Warriors' best 40-minute displays of the year, if touched with a dose of controversy and anxiety initially.

Having started the spell assuredly, they seemed to have earned a reward via the Johnson-Vatuvei link just seven minutes in. It came as Johnson pushed a kick into the in-goal, Panthers winger Etu Uaisele failing to cover it and Vatuvei sneaking around to force the ball (or at least that was how it seemed to all but video ref Phil Cooley). The commentators called it 'try' and so did everyone else ? but Cooley inexplicably went the other way.

It had the feeling of being a huge turning point in the game as the Panthers dodged a potentially lethal bullet.

As it happened, the Vodafone Warriors weren't to be denied this time. They stayed in the grind, settling into a rhythm which would bring them joy.

It came as early as the 54th minute when the Panthers fluffed their lines on the last tackle, spilled the ball and there was the hungry Konrad Hurrell to snatch it and scamper away for his seventh try of the year. With James Maloney's conversion, the Vodafone Warriors regained the lead 18-16 and never relented from then on.

In the 65th minute a searching run from Feleti Mateo, given the man of the match award by Fox Sports, resulted in an all too familiar union with Maloney, Mateo pushing a beautiful pass before the line for Maloney to run into a hole. He was checked but cleverly stayed alive to get the ball down on the line and converted it for an invaluable eight-point advantage (in the process bringing up his 100th point of the season).

There were some streaky moments for the Vodafone Warriors in the final 15 minutes but they held their nerve, repelled what Penrith threw at them and finished with a flourish in the final minute.

Mateo, not wanted by the New South Wales Origin selectors, made a few statements on the night and came up with one in the dying stages when he carved ahead yet again before deftly pushing a grubber kick ahead. There on his shoulder racing through to touch down was fullback Kevin Locke, capping his comeback from injury in the sweetest way.

With his fifth conversion from as many attempts, Maloney took his total for the night to 14 points and his career tally just four short of 500.

Mateo had his busiest and most productive game of the year, the statistics showing he had 22 runs, made 185 metres, one line break, laid on two tries, made three tackle breaks and produced four off loads.

The remarkably consistent Ben Matulino, now running in the top 12 for the Dally M Player of the Year, was exceptional again, making more than 220 metres from 22 runs while fellow starting prop Russell Packer was also impressive with almost 150 metres from 17 runs.

Vatuvei, Hurrell and right winger Bill Tupou all topped 100 metres while second rowers Elijah Taylor (40 tackles) and Simon Mannering (38 tackles) shouldered most of the defensive work.

Another critical aspect of the effort was the Vodafone Warriors' possession game. They completed 34 sets - the most this season - of the 41 they had, a success rate of 83 per cent (also a season's best). A superior kicking game was also a key difference as they gained 882 metres from 28 kicks and forced four goal-line drop outs.

Best of all were the second half numbers, above all the 18-0 score-line with Penrith failing to manage another point after the 35th minute of the contest.

Having secured just their second away victory of the year, the Vodafone Warriors return tomorrow to begin their build-up for another away match against Cronulla on Saturday night. The Sharks pose a much stiffer challenge sitting on 18 points and expecting to have the inspirational Paul Gallen back from Origin duty.

Match details:

At Centrebet Stadium, Penrith
Penrith Panthers 16 (Josh Mansour, Kevin Kingston, Geoff Daniela tries; Luke Walsh 2 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 30 (Manu Vatuvei 2, Konrad Hurrell, James Maloney, Kevin Locke tries; James Maloney 5 conversions).
Halftime: 16-12 Panthers.
Referees: Steve Lyons and Brett Suttor.
Crowd: 5778.

Vodafone Warriors: Kevin Locke; Bill Tupou, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei; James Maloney, Shaun Johnson; Russell Packer, Alehana Mara, Ben Matulino; Elijah Taylor, Simon Mannering (c); Feleti Mateo. Interchange: Lewis Brown, Steve Rapira, Sione Lousi, Jacob Lillyman.

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