League: Doggies humbled as winger storms in

By Steve Deane

Warriors 36 Bulldogs 16

It would be an interesting mathematical exercise to tot up the Manu Vatuvei ledger and see whether or not the good outweighs the bad.

Theoretically, it would be possible to count up his tackle busts, line breaks and tries - such as his raking 30m effort in yesterday's victory over the Bulldogs - and compare it with his not insignificant blunder column.

But what would the numbers really say? Would a spreadsheet really help solve the footballing conundrum that is the softly spoken Polynesian powerhouse - a first rate finisher whose hands under the high ball can resemble feet.

Yesterday Vatuvei was at his marauding best, crossing for tries number five and six to head to the top of the NRL's scoring charts.

There were a couple of dodgy moments in his own in-goal, when his scrambling efforts to rein in the ball conjured images of a radio advertisement lampooning his uncertain handling.

The ad depicts Vatuvei trying to help a young girl cross a road only to lose grip of her hand at a vital moment. It doesn't end well for the girl, but yesterday it was the Bulldogs who got run over.

Patrick Ah Van's second-minute try from Grant Rovelli's cross kick had given the Warriors the perfect start and Vatuvei backed it up with a sensational solo effort, shrugging aside Ben Roberts to run 30m and score.

The Warriors could have put the game to bed in the first 20 minutes but they failed to finish several good chances and the Bulldogs had taken the lead by halftime thanks to two tries created by trademark Sonny-Bill Williams offloads.

The Dogs pounded the Warriors' line after the break but the home side's defence held and it was Vatuvei who turned a strong relieving set into points, running on to Ian Henderson's perfectly timed pass and stepping inside Andrew Ryan and Luke Patten to finish under the bar.

"It was a significant momentum swing in the game," coach Ivan Cleary said. "I'd say it was a real turning point."

It sure was, and it would be difficult to overrate Vatuvei's contribution. The Warriors, however, are still a touch sensitive about their boom or bust winger.

"I reckon he plays well all the time," said captain Ruben Wiki. "Everyone writes him off but he just shows that he has matured so much. He is one of our strike weapons and he just showed again what he is a capable of and how important he is to the team."

Vatuvei, though, has grown used to the questioning over his handling. He is also, he said, sporting his trademark grin, getting used to being a target and is growing in confidence.

"It is getting better every week. When I've made mistakes before I've kind of gone into my shell. What I'm concentrating on this year is, if I make a mistake, doing something good after it. If I go into my shell I'll end up making more mistakes."

Ah Van, who climbed well for the opening try, created two more. The first came when Roberts, a leading contender for the Kiwis standoff jersey in the Anzac test, lost his rag and elbowed Ah Van in the head.

The penalty allowed Wiki to bounce off Williams and score. The conversion kicked the Warriors clear, and capped a mixed day for Roberts, who also scored a try and saved one with a fine tackle on Brent Tate.

An Ah Van kick return laid on a try for Lance Hohaia before Sonny Fai scored his first career try in the final minute.

"We came here with a game plan but we didn't execute it very well and we paid for it," lamented Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes.

There were plenty of positives for the Warriors, with Wiki showing there is life yet in his ageing legs and Henderson's power-game starting to come to the fore.

Cleary said the performance, which maintained the Warriors' unbeaten home record, went some way to erasing the memory of the round three thrashing by Manly. But his side is yet to win away this year and it will likely take a victory on Australian soil to complete the cathartic process.

The next chance is against the Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday night.

- NZ Herald

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