The Vodafone Junior Warriors recovered from consecutive losses to register a hard-fought 18-16 victory over Penrith in today's NYC clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
In their previous outing at home, the 2010-2011 NYC premiers crashed 10-40 loss to Cronulla, their biggest home defeat in the competition's five-year history. They followed it up with a desperately unlucky 28-32 loss to North Queensland last Saturday, a result that cost them top spot on the competition ladder.
But today's victory keeps the John Ackland- coached side in the mix for the minor premiership. They stay third on 35 points, one behind Canberra and level with Canterbury-Bankstown, which holds second place on points for and against.
Those two sides meet in Canberra next weekend, while the Vodafone Junior Warriors are away to St George Illawarra. If Canberra and the Vodafone Junior Warriors both win, their clash at Mount Smart Stadium on September 2 will decide the NYC minor premiership.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors appeared to have victory sewn up, leading 18-10 with about three minutes left, but fears of another defeat at the death were rekindled, when Penrith scored in the 78th minute to cut the lead to just two points. Fortunately, there was no heartbreak this time and the Vodafone Junior Warriors held out their rivals for a much-needed victory.
The Panthers ensured this was never a victory that would come easily. They scored first, before the Vodafone Junior Warriors struck back with two tries. The first was a quality effort as captain John Palavi used clever footwork and pace to carve through the Penrith line, while the next was all down to power, with interchange prop Toka Likiliki proving an irresistible force as he drove over.
A 10-4 halftime lead was eroded early in the second half, as Penrith levelled up, before the home side stitched together two nicely-worked tries in a matter of minutes.
The first in the 61st minute was finished off nicely by 17-year-old winger David Fusitua when the Vodafone Junior Warriors shifted the ball sweetly to the left edge. Then four minutes later, good hands to the right gifted Viliami Lolohea his 12th try in 12 matches this season to stretch his side out to an 18-10 advantage with 15 minutes to play.
Junior Warriors 18 (John Palavi, Toka Likiliki, David Fusitua, Viliami Lolohea tries; Mason Lino conversion) Penrith Panthers 16 (Kieran Moss 2, Corey Carl tries; Toby Evans 2 conversions); HT: 10-6