The Counties-Manukau Stingrays rattled on 34 second-half points to thrash the Canterbury Bulls 44-20 but coach Peter Caccioppoli reckons there is still plenty to work on for the rest of the Pirtek National Rugby League premiership.
Counties-Manukau, beaten finalists last season, look serious contenders for the Albert Baskerville Trophy after an eight tries to four victory in front of a paltry crowd at Christchurch's AMI Stadium.
"It's only stage one, it's always good to come away with a win but plenty to work on for us,'' Caccioppoli said.
"We definitely had a nice little patch, the boys got a bit of momentum out there. But we were a lot sloppier than what I would have liked, at the end.''
The Stingrays had a bye in the first round and took time to settle in their first outing for 2013 but Caccioppoli said: "Counties presents us with a lot of talent, and we've got to harness that.''
The Bulls, playing their first game at home after three seasons under the South Island Scorpions banner, opened strongly and scored the first try to hooker Josh Ka.
Both teams scored two first half tries for a 10-10 stalemate at halftime, with teenage wing Cody Te Awa joining Ka on the Canterbury scoresheet. Interchange men James Taufa and Atunaisa Tupou crossed the chalk for Counties Manukau.
The Bulls began brightly after the interval with former Scottish rugby sevens international Darren Gillespie grabbing the first try of the second half.
But it was one-way traffic thereafter as Counties-Manukau ran riot.
The turning point was a five-point spell in the third quarter, which produced three Counties-Manukau tries, two to big centre Carlos Ulberg.
Scrumhalf Zebastian Luisi waltzed through some non-existent tackles for the first of two-carbon copy tries by the Stingrays' vice-captain.
Second-rower Paulos Latu extended Counties-Manukau's lead to 20 points before Canterbury centre Matt Sauni pounced to snatch the Bulls' fourth try.
But normal service resumed with Luisi scampering away for his second try and interchange forward Seiloni Moala completing the rout.
Caccioppoli praised big second-rower Chris Ofanoa "on the right-hand edge''.
"Defensively, I thought he was superb and I liked the cameo of Terence Phillips off the bench, he made a huge match-up. And the experience of [prop] Mataupu Poching. Those three stand out for me.''
Canterbury coach Mike Dorreen, a former Kiwis and Warriors outside back, praised Gillespie's effort in the Scot's first match at centre, but he felt the Bulls were "a yard or two off the pace''. He said Counties-Manukau were "certainly quick out of dummy half and they controlled the ruck well''.
"We've certainly got a lot to work on.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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