A David Fusitu’a second-half hat-trick and Mason Lino’s perfect goal-kicking exhibition propelled the New Zealand Warriors to an impressive 36-28 victory over Mounties at Mount Smart Stadium.
The net effect of the result saw the Warriors surge into second spot on the ladder on 22 points, leapfrogging Mounties in the process.
With so many of the club’s injured players back on deck, Warriors coach Stacey Jones was able to field his strongest team so far this season, one which featured a heavy quotient of NRL experience.
Yet it was the least experienced player in the side who sparked things up immediately. 18-year-old standoff Ata Hingano, promoted from the club’s NYC side to make his VB NSW Cup debut, slipped through a sweet grubber into the Mounties’ in-goal for fullback Glen Fisiiahi to score in his comeback from a knee injury.
Ten minutes into the contest, Mounties centre Mitch Cronin was stretchered off the field with a suspected spinal injury, but scans cleared him of any long-term injury.
Mounties hit back to 6-all when Mark Nicholls was on the receiving end of a good ball by Glen Buttriss.
David Bhana broke clear up the middle in the 28th minute and shifted a great pass inside for hooker Nathaniel Roache to race 40 metres to increase the Warriors’ lead to 12-6.
Mounties locked up the scores yet again when Josh McCrone put in a grubber for Mitch Cornish to score under the posts.
Right on halftime second rower Sione Lousi muscled his way over in the corner after heading down the short side. After converting the first two tries Lino – who kicked impeccably all day – spliced the posts with a brilliant conversion to lead 18-12 at the break.
The second half became the Fusitu’a show as he nabbed three tries, although he had plenty of help from men inside him, particularly from Lino and prop Sam Lisone who both put him over with special skills. Each time Lino put the ball between the posts to give the Warriors a comfortable 36-18 lead.
There might have been more points from the Warriors but instead Mounties hit back to move within 12 points through second-rower Mitch Barnett’s second try. When winger Gus Aiga also crossed, it was 28-36 but mercifully for the home side Mitch Cornish was astray with the conversion attempt leaving the Warriors eight points ahead and assured of a vital victory.
The win backs up the Warriors’ last outing, a 28-0 win over Wyong at Mount Smart Stadium on June 13, but the draw isn’t favourable. Having found momentum, the Warriors have a bye again next weekend – their second in three weeks.
Their next match is against the Illawarra Cutters at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday, May 12, while Mounties will play the North Sydney Bears next week at North Sydney Oval.
NZ Warriors 36 (D Fusitu'a 3, G Fisiiahi, N Roache, S Lousi tries; M Lino 6 goals) bt Mounties 28 (M Barnett 2, Mark Nicholls, M Cornish, G Aiga tries; M Cornish 4 goals) at Mount Smart Stadium.