Woodlands and Blues to contest final of shield
Woodlands rang some alarm bells in the race for the Galbraith Shield on Saturday as they dispatched defending champions Star with ease in one semifinal at the Les George Oval.
Despite finishing top of the points standings after round-robin play, Woodlands had dropped three games in a row leading into the 2012 semifinal against Star, which was a repeat of last year's final.
However, the star-studded Woodlands team, which featured Highlanders frontrowers Jamie Mackintosh and Jason Rutledge, delivered when it counted, producing an exceptional first 30 minutes which ultimately launched them into another Galbraith Shield semifinal.
Woodlands grabbed hold of the ball early in the game and never let go as they ran in 21 unanswered points in half an hour.
First five-eighth Marty McKenzie scored the first of his 23-point haul when he landed a penalty with just two minutes gone in the game.
A couple of minutes later the Woodlands backline cut holes through the Star defence and fullback Warrick Lynn got in on the act, running in the first try of the game.
Lynn was one of Woodlands' best throughout the game and continued what has been a good season for the younger brother of Highlanders, and now Bay of Plenty, centre Kendrick Lynn.
When the talented McKenzie crossed from a chargedown in the 20th minute and added a conversion, followed by another penalty, it was pretty much curtains for Star as they trailed 21-nil.
They had a limited bench and were not known throughout the season as fast finishers so the mountain in front of them was daunting.
Star halfback Tayler Adams kicked a penalty close to halftime to make it 21-3 and he added another soon after the break to make it 21-6.
When Woodlands captain Alex Ryan was sinbinned in the 56th minute for a flurry of punches right in front of touch judge Phil Johnson, Star looked to be gaining some much-needed momentum.
However, that was short-lived as in the 62nd minute replacement first five-eighth Ricky Bakker crossed to push the game beyond doubt.
To add some salt to the Star wound, McKenzie on the stroke of fulltime latched on to an intercept pass deep in his own half and scooted in for his second try to push the score out to 33-9.
Woodlands will now eye the final against Blues at Rugby Park on Saturday after Blues toppled the Eastern-Barbarians in the other semifinal on Saturday.
Blues have hit their straps at the right time of the season after having looked in serious doubt they would make the top four at the midway point.
They do, however, have an experienced and well balanced team right across the park which steadied the ship and produced the goods in the back end of the season to fly into second spot on the ladder.
While it wasn't pretty, that experience also shone through for Blues on Saturday as they ground out a 14-9 win.
First five-eighths Rhys Truelove and Josh Hall traded penalties before a Daniel Townson try in the second half provided Blues the buffer needed as they led 14-6.
In the dying moments of the game, knowing the Eastern-Northern Barbarians had to score twice, Truelove landed a third penalty to make it 14-9 and put them within a try of levelling the scores. That try didn't come as Blues locked and loaded a place in the decider.
Again it was the hard work of their forwards that set up the win with loosehead prop Micheal Peterson having another strong game.
He has been a key factor in their impressive scrum but also has had a good work rate around the field since coming back from a lengthy injury break.
Although the Eastern-Northern Barbarians 2012 campaign is over, the combined country team can be pleased with their debut season which has indicated they are more than competitive at this level.
Woodlands 33 (M McKenzie 2, W Lynn, R Bakker tries; McKenzie 3 pen, 2 con), Star 9 (T Adams 3 pen). Blues 14 (D Townson try; J Hall 3 pen), Eastern-Barbarians 9 (R Truelove 3 pen).