A healthy crowd turned up to Toll Stadium to watch the first week of the RLN MultiKai Cooker Premiership Finals Series. Someone must have spoken to the weather gods, as the morning threatened with numerous downpours. However, come 12pm, the sun broke through and was a partner in the entertainment for the rest of the day.
GAME 1 – Hokianga Pioneers 40 v Northern Wairoa Bulls 20
At 1pm, the Hokianga Pioneers took on the Northern Wairoa Bulls. Finals football can be a funny beast – some teams rise to the challenge while others can choke under the pressure, for the first 15 minutes of the match both teams were of the latter option. The Bulls in the meantime had stolen a try after a one on one strip from the back of the scrum by Shelford Edwards, allowed him to run 20 metres untouched to score, however Hohepa Harding goofed the easy conversion.
Cometh the hour cometh the man, and come the 15th minute Hokianga Pioneers’ standoff Richard Koroi sprung into action. The Bulls defence line could only stand and watch as Koroi, time after time, took on their line, creating tries in the 15th, 22nd, 25th and 36th minute for the Pioneers to take a 24 – 4 half time lead. By the 20th minute in the second spell, the Pioneers had stretched their lead to 40 – 4, with Koroi again instrumental. His partnership with Wiremu Snowden-Te Iringa was lethal with Snowden-Te Iringa scoring a hat-trick of tries. Koroi himself got over the line and converted 6 tries to have a personal tally of 16 points.
The last 20 minutes saw a Bull team gain some respect, scoring three late tries, with a final score of 40 – 20. The Bulls had tried hard all day but had failed to compete at finals intensity on the day. However as it was the first ever season of coaching for coach Cruize Selkirk, you would have to predict that next year the Bulls will come back stronger with the experience.
The Pioneers progress to the Major Semi Finals and will face the Hikurangi Stags on Saturday 2nd August 1pm at Toll Stadium.
GAME 2 – Otangarei Knights v Portland Panthers
This game had it all, it was your traditional grinding finals game where none of the teams were going to give up any easy territory. Typical of a semi-final of intense proportions, Otangarei scored first in the 7th minute to Winger Dane Tito, with Portland hitting straight back with skipper, Robert Nathan, busting over on the 11th minute. This spurred the Panthers pack into action and they dominated a lot of the second half possession. The pack led by the Salase brothers, Michael and Alex, made big yards, while the Knights were desperate on defence and to their credit stemmed the Panthers flow. In typical Rugby League fashion the team that can withstand continuous pressure is rewarded, as the Panthers turned over possession on their third consecutive set of 6 for powerful fullback Zion Rota to gallop 70 metres to score.
The Knights went into half time with a 14 – 6 lead, after standoff Jordan Katene, scored again, against the run of play. The normally reliable goal kicker, Herewini Edmonds only converting 1 from 3.
The second half saw another action packed affair, with momentum continuously swinging from one team to the other. First it was the Panthers who smashed their way back into contention with Alex Salase being rewarded with a well earned try and then Sharif Mangu scoring in the 55th minute for the Panthers to take a 16 – 14 lead. Demonstrating the closeness of the game the next team to score was the Knights,as they put back to back penalties on the board to take a 18 – 16 lead, which is where the score stayed until the 78th minute, when on the back of a sweeping move, Linn Hunapo looked certain to score as he stepped inside the last defender who in the reaction of the movement stuck his arm out in an 80’s style coat hanger, cleaning Hunapo out in the action.
The game was suspended as Hunapo was stretched off and taken to hospital for observation – when the game continued, Michael Salase from the Panthers was sent from the field and the Knights were awarded a penalty try to win the game 24 – 16.
The Knights will face the Takahiwai Warriors Saturday 2nd August 3pm at Toll Stadium.
Major Semi Finals – Saturday 2nd August at Toll Stadium
Hokianga Pioneers v Hikurangi Stags –1pm
Otangarei Knights v Takahiwai Warriors – 3pm