The Jets and Vulcans lay on a thriller.
The Newtown Jets and Auckland Vulcans turned on a gripping contest in their round 20 NSW Cup clash at Henson Park on Saturday. The Jets had trailed 28-10 late in the first half and staged a rousing second half comeback to grab an unlikely 36-34 win. Despite the heavy rains of the preceding days, Henson Park looked a picture and provided a perfect playing surface for this top four encounter.
The Auckland Vulcans have by far the best points for in the competition, and they presented their attacking credentials with a converted try in the game's third minute. Newtown responded with tries
through centre Willie Mataka and winger Sam Latu and maintained this 10-6 lead until midway through the first half. The Aucklanders then dominated possession for no less than seven sets in a row during which time they carved up Newtown's defences, scoring four tries in a ten minute spell to
take a 28-10 lead. The Jets pulled back with a badly-needed try through winger Byron Ford virtually on the halftime siren, going in at the break trailing by 28-16.
Newtown needed to score first in the second half to stay in the chase but nearly conceded a try to the Vulcans in the second minute. Their flying fullback Glen Fisiiahi looked certain to score but he was cut down by the ever-vigilant Byron Ford. Jets halfback Blake Lazarus turned on his best attacking performance in this game, scoring a clever try himself and then improving on a classy offload from Isaac Maliota to send fullback Mark Kheirallah racing away to the line.
The Vulcans rallied and took an eight-point 34-26 lead with fifteen minutes remaining. Two critical errors by the visitors then changed the course of the game. A penalty late in the tackle count midfield presented Newtown with an excellent attacking platform, resulting in front-rower Lama Tasi crashing over near the northern end goal-posts. The Aucklanders compounded their situation with a short kick-off that failed to travel the required ten metres, gifting the Jets the use of the ball and priceless
yardage. A pinpoint kick to the left corner by Lazarus was plucked from the air by the soaring Byron Ford, putting Newtown back in the lead for the first time since the middle of the first half. The high drama continued with the Vulcans being held up over Newtown's tryline twice in the 78th minute, and a subsequent grubber-kick for the corner almost resulting in a match-winning try.
Amid the tumult in the post-match Jets dressing rooms, coach Greg Matterson said that this had been a genuine test for the Jets against semi-final standard opposition. Newtown's forwards had competed well, using clever dummy-half running and pushing through the rucks as the big Vulcan pack tired late in the second half. The Jets' unyielding on-line defence at the death had been crucial. The coaching staff nominated Newtown's back three - fullback Mark Kheirallah and wingers Byron Ford and Sam Latu - as having had strong games, along with Blake Lazarus and Willie Mataka. Hooker Kurt Kara was a rock in defence and lively young forward Isaac Maliota continues to impress.
The Jets face up to more tough opposition in the second-placed Cronulla Sharks at Henson Park next Saturday (30th July), with this 21st round NSW Cup match timed to start at 3.00pm.