For Taniwharau it's a three-peat
Taniwharau are Waikato rugby league champions for the third successive season.
In front of a huge crowd at Huntly's Davies Park, the green and gold machine comfortably saw off the challenge of Ngaruawahia Panthers 16-2 to secure a third straight title.
The Panthers were worthy finalists and gallant in defeat but it just wasn't their day. Passes didn't stick and they turned over possession too often. As a result, they could not build the momentum to put Taniwharau under pressure.
An even first 40 minutes saw the score locked at 2-2, with Rawiri Gideon kicking a penalty for Taniwharau and Heremaia Samson replying for the Panthers as Taniwharau enjoyed a slight edge in field position but the Panthers' defensive effort was solid.
Diminutive Taniwharau halfback Malcolm Noda opened the second half scoring, scooting over from dummy-half and the conversion and another Gideon penalty saw their side push out to a 10-2 lead.
As time moved on there was a sense that it was going to be hard for the Panthers to score twice and complete come back. When strong running Taniwharau prop Lionel Wairau, ranging wide, hit the ball at pace and went over wide out, the result was effectively sealed, even though Gideon missed the conversion.
Panthers playmaker Heremaia Samson tried desperately to rally his troops but the harder he tried the more mistakes came to haunt his side's efforts.
A disallowed try out wide due to a forward pass hurt the Panthers as they attempted to mount their fightback and another successful penalty from Gideon saw the Panthers grow frustrated and panic set in during the dying stages.
The Taniwharau victory can be attributed to two factors.
The first is their pride in their defence: to keep the opposition try-less in the final was an outstanding effort.
As they have done all season, the back row of Thomas Baker, Joe Heremia and Greg Cameron led the way while hooker Patara Berryman was another to shine and Taniwharau's defensive line speed and enthusiasm was exceptional
The second factor that saw Taniwharau triumphant was their experience.
In players like Stu Heslop, Grant Spice, Harley Raihe and others previously mentioned, the victors had senior players who knew how to play finals football.
Experience and ability not to panic and stick to the basics was a key ingredient in their success.
Taniwharau backs Darren King and fullback Tobias Tuhakaraina showed their class. They were both safe and dangerous with the ball in hand.
Panthers' defence was also solid and led by Peter Wiggins and centres Anthony Autaua and Troy Waters.
Rangiriri Eels were sensational in their 25-18 victory over Te Awamutu Fire Hawks in the premier reserve grade final.
The green and black army of Eels supporters had plenty to cheer about as their entire side lifted for the game in which they went in as slight underdogs.
Captain Barry Kingi led from the front while halves Corey Kingi and Joe Heta were outstanding.
Heta in particular had an astute kicking game that gave his side good field position and he frequently kicked them out of trouble when defending their line.
Te Awamutu did play their part in an entertaining spectacle. Halves Joel Crean and Shannon Te Huia led their team well and forwards Richard Hunapo and Nathan Rehua were prominent in the pack.
College Old Boys dominated the 18s final, winning 40-16. The standout performer was COB half Dwayne Skyes, while Taniwharau's best were Heoi Raihe and Hugh Clune.
Taniwharau and Hamilton City Tigers put on an exciting final in the 16s grade which saw Taniwharau triumph 36-16.
Tuhoro Paki, Tama Koopu and Maehe Roberts were the best-performed for the victors while City Tigers' best were Tyson Ball and Bonn Scott Collins.
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