Scorpions lose, miss out on home final
The South Island Scorpions have made the national rugby league provincial premiership final but face another odyssey to Auckland on Saturday after a disappointing defeat yesterday.
Brent Stuart's team only had to beat the Counties-Manukau Stingrays to book a home final in the Albert Baskerville Shield championship at Hornby's Denton Oval next weekend.
But they came up six points short in a 30-24 reverse at Papakura to hand hosting rights to the Auckland Pride. "It wasn't the result we wanted, we were pretty keen to get a home final," Stuart said. "But at least we're in the final."
The Scorpions' buildup was disrupted when prop Rulon Nutira withdrew on Saturday with flu and wing Junior Salevao pulled out yesterday with a family member in hospital.
With backup forward Phil Nati unavailable, Stuart recruited Canterbury A stalwarts Shane Tamatea and Agaese Fiso and had to deploy Dylan Loversidge – traditionally a hooker or a half – in Salevao's spot on the wing.
The Scorpions led 18-12 at halftime at Bruce Pulman Park but Counties "came out and got on a bit of a roll" in the second spell, Stuart said.
"It took us a while to regroup and once we did we ran out of time. They had some really big blokes and they took a bit of containing at times."
Wing Luke Rosvall scored his first national premiership try, centre Bruce Havea crossed the chalk twice and hooker Jonny Limmer also dotted down while James Baxendale landed four goals. Captain Josh Reuben had another influential game in the Scorpions halves and frontrowers Manu Weepu and Jaye Pukepuke again made their physical presence felt.
But Stuart conceded the Scorpions – who had been on a four-match unbeaten run – had not played as well as they had in recent weeks and Counties-Manukau "probably had more to play for".
Rusty Matuia's men needed a big win over the southerners to have any hope of overhauling them for a place in the final.
But their six-point winning margin fell well short.
Stuart said the Scorpions would regroup this week and assess injuries and player availability before confirming their 17-man squad for the final.
He insisted the mood in the camp was still upbeat and that the players would not be daunted by Auckland after beating them in Greymouth last month.
The South Island side finished second-equal with Counties-Manukau in the premiership round-robin but had a superior points differential, 106 to 62.