Victorious Titans await nod for final

JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 13:05 24/09/2012
titans
MARC PALMANO/SHUTTERSPORT
SMASH HIM: Titan James Pikula charges at the Otago defense at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.

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An appeal to the New Zealand Rugby League may yet deny Tasman a place in the Southern rugby league final but as it stands the Titans will host the Southland Rams in the big show next weekend.

The Titans sit atop the South Island Districts series log courtesy of an expansive 40-22 thrashing of Otago at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.

The Titans have now beaten every side left in the competition but could still miss out on a finals berth they have undoubtedly earned.

Last Thursday, previous competition leaders, defending champions and title favourites Canterbury, were cut from the competition for conduct contrary to the spirit of the game. Having already made the final, Canterbury decided they would default their last round robin game against Southland "due to the lack of available players".

They pulled the same stunt last year, and this time NZRL Southern Zone general manager Steve Martin chose to send them packing.

In 2011 when Canterbury defaulted their final match, the opposition were awarded two competition points for a win and a 30-nil scoreline.

That result pushed Tasman out of the finals and if Canterbury's appeal is successful and the standard spoils for a default are maintained then Tasman will lose out on a finals spot to Southland.

Martin said that the decision made last week still stands, subject to the decision of the NZRL appeals committee.

"The final will be between Tasman and Southland and it will be drawn to be played in Nelson. However, final confirmation of that will have to wait until the appeal that Canterbury rugby league has made to New Zealand Rugby League is heard, which we are anticipating will be Tuesday."

On the current table Southland, who were beaten 32-30 by Tasman in Invercargill in the previous round, are two points adrift. Southland also have a points differential of 18 compared with Tasman's 40 but that buffer could also be negated.

"The normal procedure for a default is two points and a 30-nil scoreline for calculation points differential. That is one of the scenarios, I guess."

It is a scenario that would rob the Tasman Titans of the opportunity to win their first title that was not secured (tentatively) until their seven tries-to-four sinking of the Otago Whalers. Canterbury's decision not to play a game may have robbed the competition of some credibility, but nothing can take away the balance and form the 2012 Titans are displaying.

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Heading into this match, the Titans still could have missed out on a finals spot but playing into a steady northerly breeze Tasman got into their work early. On the back of a foot-trip penalty, Lucas Bennett opened the scoring for Tasman in the third minute, Hayden Smith converted for a 6-0 lead.

Five minutes later the Whalers levelled after winger Gruelyn Taitua gathered a cross-field kick and shrugged his tackler to score in the left-hand corner, that was it from Otago in the first half but Tasman were far from finished.

Stand-off Hayden Smith took the ball to the line and stepped through with a body swerve that evaded his defenders.

Captain Jamein Bristowe then scored in a scintillating solo effort, coming off his wing to take the ball 20m out from his line; a powerful bust in midfield was backed up by genuine pace to stand up the fullback. Winger Kaiapa Paul crossed in the corner to finish a well set-up team try taking Tasman to the break on a high and leading 22-6.

Otago were more competitive in the second half but it was Tasman who continued where they left off.

Bristowe took the ball within inches of the tryline and the lefthand touch, a quick play-the-ball was snapped up by replacement dummy-half Freedom Walker diving in on the blind.

Otago scored two quick tries to Joel Taniora and a second for Taitua but the mini-revival was quashed by their poor handling and Tasman fullback Sam Hedges and Hayden Smith combined to make 80m and Walker finished off again from dummy-half.

Callum Smith, an Otago representative last year, crossed against his old team, latching on to a pinpoint attacking chip-kick from Hayden Smith.

Otago's dummy-half got a late consolation try, good reward for Otago's best on the day, but it merely reduced the margin.

The rangy Tasman forwards were outstanding in defence and set a good platform, but it was the backs who turned on the points.

Hayden Smith was a commanding presence, directing play with assurance, kicking well from hand and kicking six from eight goals.

The back three Titans were electric, Hedges didn't get on the score sheet, but he was a menace when he came into the line from fullback. Bristowe exemplified equal parts of pace and power while Paul beguiled the defences with his fleet footwork.

Otago's ruck defence was exposed on a number of occasions by two outstanding dummy-half displays, Troy Wilson tied Otago in knots and later Walker took his toll on the scoreboard.

Tasman Titans 40 (Lucas Bennett, Hayden Smith, Jamein Bristowe, Kaiapa Paul, Freedom Walker 2, Callum Smith tries, Hayden Smith 5 cons 1 pen), Otago Whalers 22 (Gruelyn Taitua 2, Joel Taniora, Simon Fuatara tries, Ben McKerchar 3 cons). Ht: 22-6 to Tasman

- © Fairfax NZ News

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