City Tigers hold off late charge from Taniwharau to win thriller
Determined defence on their own line in the final minutes led the Hamilton City Tigers to a nail-biting victory over Taniwharau in the WaiCoa Bays club rugby league competition at the weekend.
The Tigers won 12-8 at Enderley Park in Hamilton after surviving a late charge by the visitors, who threw plenty at them in the final stages, but couldn't quite make it over the tryline.
The exciting end to the match befitted the round 11 contest between two of the more fancied teams in the competition.
With their win, the Tigers jump ahead of Taniwharau into second place on the table, and both teams look to be going the right way about securing semifinal berths.
Wet conditions played a big part in the match as players struggled for handling, particularly early on.
Both sides took turns at pressuring the line and each forced a dropout, but neither could capitalise on the scoreboard until Taniwharau opened their account through a 27th minute penalty to Dan Cunningham, landing the kick from a handy position after the Tigers were pinged for a strip.
The hosts fought back and looked set to score minutes later with an overlap on the right but Taniwharau fullback Malcolm Noda pulled off a fantastic intercept to save four points.
But seven minutes out from halftime, the Tigers struck when fullback Vaughan Calcinai made a linebreak then drew the last man for winger Ray Wallace to score.
The home side kept impressing before the break as winger Jesse McQueen made an awesome run out of his own half, beating half the Taniwharau team, and second rower Faa Leilua made a charge at the tryline but lost the ball in a good tackle.
The Tigers took a 6-2 lead to the split.
After an even opening to the second half, Taniwharau five-eighth Tobias Tuhakaraina missed touch with a poor kick from a penalty, then not long later Noda dropped a kick in front of his own posts, which led to a Tigers try as they went right and centre Quinton Hunapo slid in in the corner.
The conversion from halfback Hayden Karena was low, but went over, and made the score 12-2 after 53 minutes.
Karena's tactical kicking was a key part of the Tigers' game, as he found space near the sidelines, and he chased up well also.
Taniwharau struggled for territory in the second half, but in the final 15 minutes they began to get a few sets down the other end and immediately got reward with a try to interchange forward Caine Tukua after Tuhakaraina took the line on and gave a great offload.
Cunningham converted to make it 12-8.
With nine minutes left the Tigers had a chance to make the lead six, after being awarded a penalty from a touch judge call for a high tackle on centre Namu Puru, but Karena, about 10 metres in from the left sideline, missed.
Then Taniwharau began their charge towards a potential come from behind win.
They received a penalty coming out of their half for a strip, and again with six minutes left, when Tigers prop Tamainu Huirama was sin binned for a shoulder charge.
The Tigers kept them out that time, but they were back again, though a forward pass a few metres from the line in the 77th minute halted their progress.
However a remarkable massive scrum push won them the ball back, but superb Tigers defence shut them down on the last tackle.
There was time for Tuhakaraina to provide one more glimmer of hope when he broke through, but the Tigers were good enough to cling on, to the relief of their coach Morgan Kutia.
"I take my hat off to Taniwharau because they didn't give up and they had us on our line and it could have gone either way," he said, adding that going down to 12 men put them under a bit of pressure. "But we are very happy with our defence and it's something we always work on." Grinding out that win will give the Tigers confidence going into the playoffs, though Kutia isn't thinking of it like that.
"We've got three more games to go before we can start talking about finals football.
"Like we always say, the next game's always going to be the most important." Meanwhile, Taniwharau coach Herewini Rangi felt his side could have snatched it at the finish but didn't capitalise on their chances.
And he felt a lack of ball retention during the 80 minutes let them down. "That's what happens when you don't respect the ball," he said. "We give it away and we've got to defend on the line and go hard again to get it back.
"The effort that everyone just put out there was awesome, but there was the other E letter which was execution. So that's something we need to work on and just do it over and over again, we'll perfect it well for the boys in the coming weeks."
The Ngaruawahia Panthers maintained their position at the top of the standings with a comfortable 38-10 win over Hukanui, who are now bottom of the table on points differential.
Turangawaewae kept themselves in the playoff hunt with a 30-26 win against Pacific and the Hamilton Hornets came close to their first victory of the season but went down 32-26 to the Taupo Phoenix.
The Otumoetai Eels thrashed Central 50-10 and the Tauranga Whalers beat Ngongotaha 22-16.