Auckland spoil Bulls coach's finale
Brent Stuart's final game as Canterbury Bulls coach didn't go to script as a powerful Auckland team wrested the Rugby League Cup in a 44-16 rout at AMI Stadium at Addington in Christchurch yesterday.
Former Kiwis prop Stuart is stepping down from representative rugby league after a 10-year stint and Canterbury vice-captain Jaye Pukepuke said the Bulls had hoped to send him out a winner before 3000 fans.
"That was the big call the whole week, for all that he's done for the game of rugby league, with the Bulls, the South Island and New Zealand," Pukepuke said.
But a slick Auckland team proved party poopers, scoring eight tries to three to avenge their 2009 defeat to Canterbury.
Stuart said it "would have been nice going out with a win" but "you've got to take the good with the bad – this is one loss; every other time they've been down here, we've always had a victory".
The Bulls boss was magnanimous in defeat, saying Auckland "were definitely better than us today; they deserved the trophy".
But he conceded it was still "a bitter pill to swallow".
He hailed Auckland's quality halves, Aaron Booth and Simon Ieremia, and admitted the Bulls had "definitely had trouble containing their big fellas", notably left-sided second rower Paula Maliepo.
Centre Atelea Nafetalai opened the scoring for Auckland, but Canterbury's Josh Ka underscored the meaning of dummy in dummy half when he scooted over from the play-the-ball to tie up the game.
Stuart felt Canterbury were gaining an edge midway through the first half till Auckland scored their second try, with Ieremia squirting through the defence to feed Niuvoa Taka.
"I thought we definitely had our opportunities in the first half but we just let a few of them go and they scored straight after halftime and it was pretty much catchup the rest of the day."
Auckland scored on the halftime hooter through Maliepo and Kurt Te Hira's try from an Ieremia grubber kick after the interval proved a mortal blow with four more tries added.
Bulls left wing Junior Salevao struck back with two tries to make the scoreline more respectable.
However, as Stuart later lamented, the Bulls only played well in patches.
He felt former Warrior Corey Lawrie's scrambling defence from loose forward saved the Bulls' bacon, while props Pukepuke and Alex Todd "were very strong up the middle".
SCORERS Auckland 44 (Atelea Nafetalai 2, James Blackwell 2, Niuvoa Taka, Paula Maliepo, Simon Ieremia, Kurt Te Hira, tries; Ieremia 5, Te Hira goals) beat Canterbury Bulls 16 (Junior Salevao 2, Josh Ka tries; James Baxendale 2 goals). HT: 18-6. Referee: Daniel Caddy (Counties-Manukau).