The unbeaten run of the NYC Panthers has ended with a 30-28 defeat to the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.
After 16 games without a loss, the makeshift Panthers outfit ultimately couldn't cope with the speed and physicality of the Warriors pack in the slippery conditions.
A golden chance went begging for the Panthers in the 9th minute as Jarome Luai placed a beautiful grubber into the in-goal. Fullback Daniel Brown was first to the ball but was ruled to have knocked on in trying to ground it.
The Warriors immediately marched down the field and after back-to-back penalties, they opened the scoring. Big man Bunty Afoa managed to find an offload in the tackle for fullback Kane Telea to dive over. Telea couldn’t convert his try, leaving the score 4-0 in the 15th minute.
The Panthers hit back ten minutes later as hooker Wayde Egan scooted out of dummy half and despite the attention of three tacklers, somehow managed to get the ball down. Luai nailed the conversion to give the Panthers a 6-4 lead.
The visitors were soon on the back foot though as Brown slipped over and dropped the kick-off. However the Warriors went the early grubber and Panthers winger Jake Ennis calmly watched the ball roll dead.
As halftime approached a dropped ball from Mark Laban gave the Warriors attacking possession and they immediately capitalised. From the scrum, centre Junior Pauga pushed off two Panthers defenders and burned them on the outside to score in the corner. The conversion was unsuccessful but the Warriors led 8-6.
However they weren’t done just yet. Nathaniel Roache made a break up the middle through some tiring Panthers defence. From the next play Erin Clark found a ball back on the inside for Joseph Price to crash over. As the siren sounded, Pauga’s conversion pushed the home side’s lead out to eight points.
HALFTIME – Warriors 14-6
The Warriors raced out of the blocks after the break after a dropped ball from Ennis gave them more possession. Winger Lewis Soosemea bounced out of multiple would-be tackles before burrowing over in the 45th minute. The conversion made it 20-6.
Corey Waddell got one back for the Panthers five minutes later on the end of a well-timed Luai pass. However the playmaker couldn't convert, leaving the score 20-10.
Luai was in everything and he found some fancy footwork followed by an offload to send Tyrone May over between the sticks. His simple conversion put the Panthers back in the hunt at 20-16.
The Panthers incredibly went back-to-back-to-back as Richie Munchow broke down the left wing in the 55th minute. The ball hit the turf as he was brought down in the tackle but Waddell cleaned up to dive over and score. Luai's conversion saw the Panthers hit the front, 22-20.
As the Panthers began to give away some soft penalties, the Warriors hit back with two tries of their own to take a 30-22 lead.
However the Panthers refused to lie down and despite Munchow being assisted from the field, his makeshift replacement on the left wing Jack Nelson dived over. Luai's sideline conversion brought the game back to 30-28 with nine minutes to play.
The Panthers had the chance to score the match-winning try but when Ennis was bundled into touch with a minute left to play, the contest was over.
FULLTIME - Warriors 30-28