It was not their most clinical performance of late, but the Hamilton City Tigers' win at the weekend secured them top spot in the WaiCoa Bays club rugby league competition heading into this weekend's semifinals.
The Tigers overpowered local rivals Hamilton Hornets 38-6 at Resthills Park on Saturday in week 15 - the final round of the round-robin.
The Tigers found the going tough early due to a spirited and physical Hornets outfit with nothing to lose, and because of a muddy and windswept ground.
But their margin of victory, taking into account the Ngaruawahia Panthers' 56-14 win over the Taupo Phoenix, was enough to edge out the Panthers on points differential for the top spot.
That means the Tigers will face the fourth placed Otumoetai Eels at Resthills Park in a semifinal this Saturday, and the Panthers will take on the third Waikato side in the top four - Taniwharau - after they were comfortable 34-8 victors against the Tauranga Whalers.
The make-up of the top four means the final will be played in the Waikato.
To make that final the Tigers will be searching for a more disciplined effort than they produced at the weekend. They started their match in fine fashion, when the Hornets knocked on straight from the kickoff and fullback Ray Wallace scored from the scrum after some woeful a tackle attempts.
But to everyone's surprise, the Hornets took the lead after nine minutes when second rower Fitu Sili busted through the line on the back of a Tigers error, and halfback Mike Pairama added the extras.
It took the Tigers 10 minutes to respond when captain and lock Simon Beale spun over in a tackle to score close to the posts, and five minutes later they went 12-6 up when halfback Hayden Karena slotted a penalty when Hornets hooker Mark Simon was sin binned for a high tackle.
After lots of errors near the end of the first half, the Tigers managed to extend their lead in the final minute when centre Namu Puru crossed down the left side.
Winger Charlie Kete got the second half scoring going in the 49th minute following a nice break from interchange forward Ashley Timson. Just four minutes later hooker Vinnie Strothers scored after some slick hands and some good following up.
The game stagnated with handling errors by both sides, though the Tigers were good enough to capitalise on three more opportunities.
Interchange forward Lafaele Wulf dived over off a run close to the line, Karena grubbered through for himself, and centre Tuhinga Tairakena crossed in the final minute.
Tigers coach Morgan Kutia was aware the opening stages of his team's effort were lacklustre but was glad his side came back. "We didn't really respond how we should've to the pressure they put us under and we just got into that little niggle game," he said of the initial battle.
As for this weekend's semifinal, the Tigers won't be entering it with confidence.
"Finals football is completely different to round-robin football so we've just got to prepare accordingly and we're not confident at all actually," Kutia said.
"Every one of the top four teams can win this competition. It just depends on them bringing their A game on Saturday."
Pikiao beat Central 16-10 while College Old Boys and Ngongotaha defaulted to Pacific and Turangawaewae respectively.
- Waikato Times
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