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Canberra turn Nines on head in Auckland

January 31st, 2015, 06:57 PM
Never heard of Jack Ahearn?

The Warriors sure wish they hadn't.

The unheralded Ahearn turned the Auckland Nines rugby league tournament on its head on Saturday after his last-gasp try sealed Canberra's 23-19 win over hot favourites the Warriors, silencing a packed Eden Park.

The Warriors face a must-win match against unbeaten surprise packets the Wests Tigers on Sunday to advance to the quarter-finals.

The form guide was thrown out the window with the underrated Tigers, a young Cronulla and an injury-hit Parramatta among the unbeaten teams after two rounds of pool group action.

It takes some doing to steal the limelight from Kiwi superstar Shaun Johnson in front of an adoring home crowd.

But the little-known Ahearn was the name on everyone's lips on Saturday after he ran off Mitch Cornish to crash over for the match-winner as Canberra came storming back from 19-4 down in their final pool match.

"We always believed in ourselves even coming up against this pretty hostile crowd," Ahearn said.

Golden Boot winner Johnson had enjoyed a dream build-up, officially opening the 2015 NRL season with Greg Inglis on Thursday night.

And he lived up to the hype when he stepped his way to a trademark solo try, setting up what seemed to be an unbeatable lead against Canberra.

"We worked so hard on 'd' all pre-season so to switch off like that is very disappointing," a shattered Johnson said.

Locking up a top-two pool spot and advancing to the last eight hinges on their clash with the Wests Tigers.

Not much was expected from a Tigers squad boasting captain Chris Lawrence, Pat Richards and some youngsters.

However, Wests Tigers (2-0, +32 points) are topping their pool ahead of the Warriors (1-1, +3), after downing Canberra 16-10 and Gold Coast 26-0 on the tournament's first day.

The shocks didn't end there - the Sharks (2-0, + 30) ended the day by mauling a baby Broncos 31-4 to top their pool ahead of a star-studded Sydney Roosters (2-0, +6).

Parramatta (2-0, +11) are atop their pool ahead of Newcastle (1-1, +5) despite being hit by the Nines' injury curse, losing Brad Takairangi (ankle) and Kaysa Pritchard (pectoral).

It was Eels coach Brad Arthur's worst nightmare after NRL mentors admitted they were nervous ahead of the 2015 NRL season following last year's shocking Nines injury toll.

South Sydney (2-0, +14) top their pool after the likes of Issac Luke, George Burgess and Adam Reynolds shone in wins over lowly Penrith (11-4) and defending champions North Queensland (19-12).

The Cowboys (1-1, +2) are third in their pool and must down Penrith on Sunday to stay alive.

One more round of pool matches will be held on Sunday before finals begin.

The big fizzers on day one were Manly (0-2, -9) who failed to win a game despite arriving with a squad boasting Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran.

Big things had also been expected from Gold Coast (0-2, -33) and a Broncos side (0-2, -29) featuring new face Anthony Milford.