NYC run-in - three games to go
Monday 13 August 2012 1:06 PM
Repeat minor premiership success is still within the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ reach despite their consecutive NYC losses to Cronulla and North Queensland.
The defeats have allowed challengers Canberra and Canterbury-Bankstown to overtake the back-to-back premiers.
The Raiders claimed top spot on 34 points by beating fifth-placed Penrith 28-22 yesterday while the Bulldogs had a 38-32 victory over Brisbane to move level with the Vodafone Junior Warriors on 33 points; the Bulldogs are second on points for and against (plus 205 to plus 148).
The race is still on, though.
In a tight tussle to claim the minor premiership for the second year running, the Vodafone Junior Warriors face two of the top five teams – both at Mount Smart Stadium – in their last three games of the regular season.
First is Penrith this Sunday (kick-off 11.45am) followed by the new leader Canberra in the final round on Sunday, September 2 (kick-off 1.45pm).
In between the Vodafone Junior Warriors meet St George Illawarra in Wollongong on Saturday, August 25 (3.15pm kick-off local time), the Dragons lying eighth at the moment although they would slip to ninth should Cronulla win in Newcastle tonight.
This Friday night the Bulldogs take on fourth-placed Wests Tigers (32 points) while the Raiders face the sixth-placed Sydney Roosters on Saturday. There’ll be a critical clash the following week when the Raiders host the Bulldogs on August 24.
If both the Raiders and the Vodafone Junior Warriors win their next two matches, their clash at Mount Smart Stadium on September 2 will be the minor premiership decider.
While the Cowboys edged them out 32-28 in dramatic fashion on Saturday night, the Vodafone Junior Warriors regained significant ground following their grim 10-40 loss to Cronulla the previous week. It was just their second loss at home in more than two years and only their 10th at Mount Smart Stadium in the competition’s five-year history; it was also the club’s heaviest NYC defeat at home.
Coach John Ackland fielded an inexperienced line-up against the Cowboys with David Bhana, Ligi Sao and Omar Slaimankhel all missing. Fullback Peta Hiku was also switched from fullback to start at standoff yet, despite the lack of seasoned players, the Vodafone Junior Warriors impressed as they went to halftime 14-8 ahead.
The second half produced some rock ‘n’ roll rugby league as the lead changed regularly until centre Ngani Laumape scored his third try to put the Vodafone Junior Warriors in front 28-26 with eight minutes left.
They couldn’t hold on, though, the Cowboys snaring the match-winner in the 78th minute to deny the premiers what would have been a remarkable win for all sorts of reasons.
For one travelling to Townsville the day before the game makes this the toughest assignment the Vodafone Junior Warriors face; for another their reshuffled combination was a youthful one; and for yet another they had to battle a 6-0 penalty count against them in the second half (8-4 to the home side overall).
There was another challenge, too, in the considerable shape of former Otahuhu and Papakura junior Jason Taumalolo. Still only 19 and eligible for the NYC again next year, Taumalolo was the Kiwis’ 18th man for this year’s Anzac and has played 13 NRL matches this year (as well as one in 2010 and three last year). He was a one-man wrecking ball carrying the ball 23 times, making 219 metres and scoring two tries in the first half as well as producing a try assist, 13 tackles breaks four off loads and two line breaks.
Now the Vodafone Junior Warriors look towards the Panthers, as they seek to square the ledger this season after losing 10-14 in Penrith in early June.
With three rounds to go, this is how the run-in looks for the teams in the NYC:
Canberra (1, 34 points, +191) – Roosters (h), Bulldogs (h), Vodafone Warriors (a).
Bulldogs (2, 33 points, +205) – Tigers (h), Raiders (a), Roosters (h).
Vodafone Warriors (3, 33 points, +148) – Panthers (h), Dragons (a), Raiders (h).
Tigers (4, 32 points, +184) – Bulldogs (a), Roosters (a), Storm (h).
Panthers (5, 31 points, +119) – Vodafone Warriors (a), Titans (h), Broncos (a).
Roosters (6, 30 points, +132) – Raiders (a), Tigers (h), Bulldogs (a).
Rabbitohs (7, 29 points, +82) – Sharks (a), Eels (h), Knights (a).
Dragons (8, 27 points, +59) – Cowboys (h), Vodafone Warriors (h), Eels (a).
Sharks (9, 26 points, -25) – Knights (a) tonight, Rabbitohs (h), Storm (a), Cowboys (h).
Storm (10, 26 points, -61) – Broncos (a), Sharks (a), Tigers (a).
Knights (11, 21 points, +68) – Sharks (h) tonight, Sea Eagles (a), Cowboys (a), Rabbitohs (h).
Broncos (12, 18 points, -128) – Storm (h), Sea Eagles (a), Panthers (h).
Cowboys (13, 18 points, -169) – Dragons (a), Knights (h), Sharks (a).
Eels (14, 14 points, -196) – Titans (a), Rabbitohs (a), Dragons (h).
Sea Eagles (15, 14 points, -333) – Knights (h), Broncos (h), Titans (a).
Titans (16, 12 points, -276) – Eels (h), Panthers (a), Sea Eagles (h).