It’s a clash of the Titans in the RLN Scott Electrical Premiership Grand Final this Sunday at Toll Stadium, as the Hikurangi Stags face the Takahiwai Warriors. The Stags have been the form team of the 2015 Scott Electrical Premiership, finishing top of the table to win the Minor Premiership 6 points clear of second place Takahiwai Warriors. Both teams had a week off before their Major Semi-Final wins on Saturday.
The Grand Final sets up a replay of the 2013 RLN Premiership that saw a thrilling 36 – 26 win by the Stags. The Stags have dominated Rugby League in Northland having won 5 out of the last 8 Titles. Their 2014 loss, to the Otangarei Knights, preventing them from winning four in a row. The Stags and the Warriors have met twice already this year with the Stags winning both encounters, their first in round 2 winning 40 – 16, the second in round 10 narrowly winning 22 – 20.
The first to confirm their place in the final were the Warriors as they defeated the Moerewa Tigers in a beautiful game of footy that went right down to the wire. Locked at 24 all for the final 5 minutes of the game, with 5 seconds left on the clock and final tackle it looked certain to go to a golden point decider, and then up stepped the man of the moment Kyle Hool, the Tigers held back as it looked as if Hool was going to kick, however he had everyone fooled as he stepped and weaved from the forty metre line to go untouched under the posts for the Warriors to snatch the victory 30 – 24.
The match was evenly balanced and of extremely high quality, there would have been as few as 6 scrums throughout the game displaying the high skill level of both teams. It was the Tigers who showed the better form going into half time with 16 – 6 lead. However come the hour, come the man, it was Kyle Hool’s second half and he scored two sublime individual tries and set up another beauty! He was backed up by great performances from outside backs, Captain Hori Tuhoro and Ross McFarlane who were fearless in their go forward with Hools’ brother Jordan, providing grunt in the middle of the park.
The Tigers were shattered and heartbroken at the end of the match, Tigers Coach, David Bristow, should be proud of the way his team performed in the match as well as the improvement they showed throughout the 2015 season. For the Tigers, Captain Peter Prime, was inspirational around dummy half, William Wiki provided awesome go forward, while Te Tuhi Tipene and Anauru Thompson were hard to bring down out wide.
If the first Major Semi-Final was a beautiful game of footy the second game between the Hikurangi Stags and the Hokianga Pioneers was the opposite. It was a brutish arm wrestle that never really reached second gear. The first half showed some snap shots of quality with the Pioneers playing a more controlled game going out to an early 16 – 0 lead. The Stags looked like possums in headlights for the first 20 minutes. Any team with Player/Coach Joe Rau at the helm should not be under-estimated as the Stags slowly ground their way back into the game with two late tries to go into half time trailing the Pioneers 16 – 12.
The second half was a stop/start affair as both teams got caught up in a negative style of football as both teams baited each other. Hikurangi coped better with the pressure as they camped for an extended length of time in the Pioneers 20 metre zone. After two disallowed tries and a period of a good 15 minutes, the Stags finally broke the Pioneers scrambling defence as Joe Rau stole a try. This was quickly followed up by another Stags try to take a 24 – 16 lead. The Pioneers hit back 24 – 20 setting up an exciting finish, but ill discipline saw a Pioneer player sent to the bin which gave the Stags the momentum to score another try and close out the match 28 – 20.
For the Stags Joe Rau again led his troops well, Caleb Aekins was strong at stand-off creating opportunities for outside backs, Joachim and Zabdiel Edmonds and Jordan Rau who all dotted over to score.
The Pioneers coach Jason Smith should be confident going into next season if can keep the majority of his squad together, the Pioneers showed great form going into the playoffs, they are a tough physical pack led by Eli George and Shannon Haare with speed and power out wide in the name of Blueray Joyce and Jerome Stowers. With Captain Richard Koroi helping to piece it all together they look solid.