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Newcastle bounce back in Auckland
Newcastle rebounded from a 14-point deficit to beat the Vodafone Warriors in Friday night's NRL trial at North Harbour Stadium.
Having their first hit-out ahead of the 2008 season, the Vodafone Warriors impressed in the first two quarters as they created three tries to lead 14-0.
They may well have led by an even greater margin but there was still a lot to like about the work the team was doing at both ends of the park.
A nicely-weighted Wade McKinnon grubber provided right winger Patrick Ah Van with a well-executed try in just the second minute of the match.
And opposite winger Manu Vatuvei was all brutish strength when he surged onto a wide pass and scattered two defenders for a 15th minute try. Michael Witt was astray with the sideline conversions of both tries but the Vodafone Warriors were looking sound as they led 8-0 at the 20-minute water break.
Better followed soon after when Vatuvei popped up on the right side of the field, opened up Newcastle's defence and fed the ball sweetly inside for Wairangi Koopu to go over. With Witt's conversion, the home side was well in front.
But the tone and tempo of the trial changed in the second 40 minutes.
One factor was the weather, with rain arriving to make handling difficult.
The other factor was the vastly rearranged line-ups coach Ivan Cleary tried through that period.
All sorts of combinations were put on the field. Six players who had already appeared for the Vodafone Junior Warriors were on the bench for the NRL trial and four of them were thrown into the fray - Scott Jones, Russell Packer, Ben Matulino and Kevin Locke.
As it was the Vodafone Warriors were missing key personnel in Steve Price, Brent Tate, Logan Swann, Jerome Ropati and Michael Crockett who weren't considered for this match.
And when the likes of Ruben Wiki, Nathan Fien, Wairangi Koopu, Micheal Luck, Wade McKinnon, Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei and Grant Rovelli were on the bench, the Vodafone Warriors had a very young look about their on-field line-up.
The Knights came back into the match during this time with former Vodafone Warrior Cooper Vuna scoring an unconverted try.
In the third quarter it was all Newcastle as the Vodafone Warriors found it almost impossible to secure a share of possession.
Three tries followed to standoff Chris Bailey, centre Zeb Taia and loose forward Richard Fa'aoso, giving the Knights victory. Cleary wasn't overly concerned with the outcome.
He was suitably impressed with the way the best available line-up measured up in the first half but didn't read too much into what happened after that, accepting there were so many interchanges and positional swaps as he checked other options.
The Vodafone Warriors have a trial against an Auckland Vulcans selection at Henham Park in Otahuhu next Saturday (February 23).
Vodafone Warriors 14 (Patrick Ah Van, Manu Vatuvei, Wairangi Koopu tries; Michael Witt conversion).
Newcastle Knights 22 (Cooper Vuna, Chris Bailey, Zeb Taia, Richard Fa'aoso tries; Scott Dureau 3 conversions).
Halftime: 14-0 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Shayne Hayne. Crowd: 9000.
Vodafone Warriors - Wade McKinnon; Patrick Ah Van, Aidan Kirk, Lance Hohaia, Manu Vatuvei; Michael Witt, Grant Rovelli; Ruben Wiki (c), Nathan Fien, Sam Rapira; Simon Mannering, Wairangi Koopu; Micheal Luck. Interchange: Ian Henderson, Evarn Tuimavave, Epalahame Lauaki, Sonny Fai, Malo Solomona, Ryan Shortland, Scott Jones, Kevin Locke, Russell Packer, Ben Matulino, Steve Rapira (not used), Constantine Mika (not used).
Newcastle Knights - Wes Naiqama; Aquila Uate, James McManus, Zeb Taia, Cooper Vuna; Chris Bailey, Jarrod Mullen; Matt White, Matt Hilder, Daniel Tolar; Tamu Wulf, Chris Houston; Richard Fa