The New Zealand Warriors moved to the top of the VB NSW Cup table with a narrow two-point victory over the Illawarra Cutters at WIN Stadium.
Winger Ken Maumalo enjoyed a career highlight for the Warriors, scoring four tries, helping New Zealand to their fifth-straight win and their second over the Cutters in six days.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the visitors, with three tries to Illawarra in the final 10 minutes setting up a nail-biting finish. A costly missed conversion by Cutters halfback, Blake Wallace, with three minutes remaining, proved to be the difference.
Although the Warriors scored six tries to four, the Cutters were allowed to hang around due to the visitors’ inability to kick their after-try conversions, missing all six opportunities.
The Warriors set the tone defensively in the opening stages, holding the Cutters out for three consecutive sets, before going down the other end of the park and scoring through Ken Maumalo.
Mason Lino was unable to convert from out wide, leaving the score at 4-0 after nine minutes.
Illawarra responded quickly though, with a converted try to Eli Roberts in the 15th minute giving the Cutters a two-point lead, their first and only of the afternoon.
The lead was short lived too, with a knock-on from former Kiwi international, Russell Packer, resulting in the Warriors’ second try, this time through Glen Fisiiahi, his fourth in three games.
It was the Warriors who seemed to struggle to hold onto the ball in their own half at times, but their defence proved rock solid for much of the match, denying Illawarra several times over the line.
Warriors fullback, Glen Fisiiahi, made a break just after the half-hour mark, before getting a ball away to Maumalo for his second try of the afternoon to send the Warriors into the sheds up 12-6.
In what proved to be a vital 10-point turnaround, the visitors were able to capitalise on a Sam Coster disallowed try, before Lino put Dominique Peyroux over to extend their lead with just under half an hour remaining.
Two tries to Maumalo in less than 10 minutes saw the Warriors go up by three converted tries with a quarter of an hour to go, but Lino’s afternoon with the boot allowed the Cutters an opportunity to get back into the contest.
Back-to-back repeat sets for Illawarra had them down the business end of the park, when Blake Wallace got a short ball away to Chris Lewis to peg the margin back to 12 points with nine minutes remaining.
Despite tries to Junior Vaivai and Coster in the 72nd and 76th minute, it was a costly missed conversion by Blake Wallace, with three minutes remaining that proved to be the difference.
Illawarra head coach, Scott Logan, will be desperate for his side to put a full 80 minutes together next week against North Sydney, with a loss putting the Cutters at risk of losing touch with the top four.
New Zealand 24 (K Maumalo 4, G Fisiiahi, D Peyroux tries) bt. Illawarra Cutters 22 (S Coster, E Roberts, J Vaivai, C Lewis tries; B Wallace 3 goals) at WIN Stadium.