Club legend Ali Lauitiiti provided two match-winning plays to seal a 20-18 comeback win for the New Zealand Warriors in today’s third-round Intrust Super Premiership NSW clash against the Newtown Jets at Mount Smart Stadium.
Making his first appearance for the club at Mount Smart in 12 years, the 36-year-old Lauitiiti was the beneficiary of two smart plays from close range through the left side.
First he timed his run perfectly onto an Ata Hingano grubber, the try bringing the Warriors back to 14-18 with 25 minutes to play.
And, in the 72nd minute the young Hingano was again the provider, giving the big man a short ball for his third try in two games.
The Warriors’ second half effort was in complete contrast to the first half display.
They were down on intensity early on and paid the penalty, the Jets building pressure through good field position and creating a try for loose forward Jason Schirnack in the opening minutes.
Down 0-6, the Warriors lifted to uncork a splendid try in the 14th minute.
Picking up a penalty, they positioned themselves to work their left side, Erin Clark, Hingano and Tomas Aoake linking slickly with the latter shipping a nice long pass for unmarked wing Ken Maumalo to score. Hingano couldn’t convert leaving the score 4-6.
The Jets weren’t about to slip up again, though, and would go on to make much of the play over the rest of the spell, banking two more tries through half Jaline Graham and left wing Mitch Brown. Brown converted Graham’s try to give the Jets ascendancy on the scoreboard as they led 16-4 close to halftime.
In the 38th minute the Warriors had an opportunity to reduce the damage, centre Konrad Hurrell powering towards the line, but losing possession as he was stretching out to try to get the ball down.
In the final seconds of the half Brown kicked a penalty to have the visitors out to a healthy 18-4 advantage at the break.
The opening stanza of the second half provided something of a sea change as the Warriors came at Newtown with new-found purpose and intensity.
Just six minutes into spell they found themselves in good ball territory and came up with a perfect play, Clark running at the line and popping a sweet short pass for a rampaging Marata Niukore to score midway between the posts and the corner on the right. Hingano slotted the extras and there were eight points in it. The try was costly, though, with Niukore injured in the act of scoring and unable to continue.
With the leg-up they were striving for, the Warriors settled into the grind and came up with two quality tries to Lauitiiti to move within four points of the lead and then to claim it.
In the 54th minute, Hingano measured an angled grubber through the line which the veteran Lauitiiti won the race to. Hingano couldn’t convert but the margin was down to 14-18 with 26 minutes still to play.
Playing patiently the Warriors kept coming at the Jets and they needed to be calm, too.
At last, just eight minutes from time the match-clincher came, Clark and Hingano working sweetly together yet again and the latter popping a short ball to Lauitiiti for his second. Under pressure Hingano piloted the conversion for a two-point lead and ultimately victory to follow up last week’s 44-6 success over Wests Tigers.