Hukanui snatch late draw to stay top

Hukanui remain top of the Waikato premier competition after snatching a dramatic late draw against the Ngaruawahia Panthers at Resthills Park on Saturday.

The home side never led in the match and were down by eight with 10 minutes to play, before a 79th minute penalty goal had them sharing the spoils.

Both teams take two points for the draw, and it remains to be seen just how crucial that will be when the playoffs lineup is completed in a month's time.

The Panthers are just one point back from Hawkins Construction/Placemakers Clarence St Hukanui, though both sides have a bye (worth no points) to come, and tougher run-ins than the other contenders.

But if either of them play with the determination they did at the weekend they will be tricky to stop, with a quality second half providing a thrilling finish.

It followed a first half were completed sets were at a premium, with handling an issue in the muddy conditions.

After some good opening defence, Hukanui conceded in the 10th minute when Ngaruawahia halfback Jonty McBeth went to the line, fended, and breezed his way over.

When hooker Connor Rutene dropped the restart, the hosts were primed to hit back straight away, but they gave the ball back just as quickly.

Halfway through the first half a kick out on the full from the visitors had them back pedalling, before they conceded a dropout.

Then on their next possession a poor ball out the back from lock Laulea Fangufangu was snapped up by Hukanui, who went on to finish in the left corner via winger Robbie-John Nikora.

In the 33rd minute the Panthers added to their total with a penalty to five-eighth Raynard Haggie after the home side were pinged for slowing down the play the ball.

With the breeze behind him, Haggie slotted it from 37 metres out, in front, and the Panthers took that 8-4 lead to halftime.

It was all the visitors in the opening stages of the second spell.

An awful kick into his own player from Hukanui halfback Brandyn Nikora, helped gift the Panthers the chance to extend their margin, which they duly did in the 53rd minute.

Hooker Dallas Kutia double pumped out of dummy half to give a nice ball to prop Ashley Taua to charge over, with the Panthers deserving points with all their possession and position.

But though they scored close to the posts, Haggie shanked the conversion, which ultimately turned significant.

Ngaruawahia mucked up the restart and conceded a dropout, but were soon enough up the other end again, with Hukanui hooker Robbie Edmonds penalised for a late tackle.

McBeth went close with a strong run, but a try-saving tackle from Brandyn Nikora saved the situation.

And then it was then the hosts' turn to have some time in their opponents' 20.With 10 minutes to play and 12-4 behind, Hukanui really had to score then to keep their hopes alive.

They forced a dropout and then scored from the next set, with centre Travis Bartels doing well to burrow over.

He then converted to set up a tense finish.Soon later the Panthers were again under the pump when fullback Benjamin Greenwood was called to have knocked on a ball that looked to have gone backwards.

On the last tackle Edmonds looked to kick from dummy half but dropped the ball.

The Panthers then gave the ball straight back, and after getting six more tackles during the set, Brandyn Nikora was speeding away to the right corner, only for Ngaruawahia centre Mounga Molisi to produce a try-saver by dislodging the ball.

After seeing out their set, the Panthers probably had to defend just one more set to hold on for victory.

But they came unstuck when winger Jayden Flood was penalised for having his hands interfering with the play the ball.

About 30 metres out and 10 in from touch, up stepped Bartels.

Having shown he is the sharpest shooter in the competition, he also showed he has ice in his veins, as he banged the ball between the uprights.

There was time for the restart but that was about it, with Hukanui finishing the happier of the two camps.

Meanwhile, the Otumoetai Eels have slipped behind the Hamilton City Tigers and Taniwharau after losing to the latter 28-10 at Davies Park, while the Tigers hammered United 74-4 at Resthills.