WaiCoa Bays decider re-run of last year's battle
Coming through: Taniwharau's Ruben Williams on the charge during their game against Ngaruawahia Panthers at Davies Park in Huntly on Saturday. Photo: MARK TAYLOR
There will be a touch of deja vu about this year's WaiCoa Bays club rugby league final.
The competition decider is going to feature the same teams which battled out last year's Waikato final, and it will also be played at the same venue.
Top qualifiers Hamilton City Tigers will host Taniwharau at Resthills Park in Hamilton this Saturday after both teams won their semifinals at the weekend.
Defending Waikato champions Tigers thrashed the Otumoetai Eels 40-8 at Resthills Park, while Taniwharau fought back to beat the Ngaruawahia Panthers 15-4 at Davies Park in Huntly.
After leading 14-4 at halftime thanks to tries from centres Namu Puru (2) and Faa Leilua, the Tigers then ran away with their game.
They managed a further five tries in the second stanza, with two to reserve hooker Dominic Paul and one apiece to replacement fullback Tuhinga Tairakena, hooker Vinnie Strother and winger Ray Wallace.
Taniwharau also produced a strong second half showing, but in what was a far tighter encounter.
The Panthers looked the most likely early and were impressive without the ball, forming a solid defensive line which Taniwharau seemed unable to break.
On the back of a penalty, the Panthers forced a dropout in the 13th minute and three minutes later they opened the scoring, when they went left, with halfback Heremaia Samson passing to centre Waisale Tavabulabula, who gave it to prop Cody Fletcher to barge over.
Both sides let themselves down with handling errors in conditions which improved after a wet opening period.
And when Taniwharau got close they were produced some average last play options.
They nearly evened things up when centre Ruben Williams broke through from a second-man play, as he got over the tryline but lost the ball.
That was followed by an awesome run by Tavabulabula and replacement Jonty McBeth gathered the ball and looked set to score, but for a great tackle which brought him down short.
The Panthers did receive a penalty for their efforts but they didn't opt for the posts although the trainer was calling for them to do so and they ended up losing the ball.
But they took a 4-0 lead to the break.
They stayed on the field at halftime for a brief huddle, as their opponents went to the changing rooms for a longer spell.
That seemed to work wonders for Taniwharau, as they came out firing in the second half.
They attacked the Panthers' line early and in the 51st minute came up with points when Williams scored down the left side after a good shift of the ball.
And just four minutes later Taniwharau were in again.
After their forwards made some good charges, they were able to again expose the Panthers' right side defence, with winger Malcolm Noda finishing with a brilliant dive.
The conversion from Dan Cunningham made it 10-4.
The Panthers almost hit back when a bomb from McBeth saw Tavabulabula go close with a dive to ground the ball, but it beat him to the dead ball line.
With 14 minutes to go Taniwharau halfback Willie Rangi attempted a field goal but missed, then five minutes later Tavabulabula was away again but the touch judge had spotted his foot in touch.
The Panthers still had opportunities late, but when they put the ball down and Taniwharau proceeded to kick on the last tackle the ball deflected off a Panthers player and gave Taniwharau the feed with four minutes to play.
From they scrum they found Williams, who sped away and dived over to seal the match.
In the final minute Rangi added a field goal for good measure.
It was a gutsy, determined display from Taniwharau, who played with only 12 players for the last 12 minutes, due to numerous injuries.
Taniwharau coach Herewini Rangi said his team "really wanted it" and the clear message at halftime was to "hold the ball" so the Panthers would "defend longer".
"We had a few wounded soldiers but the boys that were out there, they showed a bit of heart today," he said.
"It was unbelievable, how much the boys give to each other, they work hard for each other, and the result came our way."
Panthers coach Tahere Morunga felt his team should have been up by more at halftime, but for silly errors.
He believed his forward pack were the fitter of the two sides and felt if his team got early second half momentum they would have gone on to win, but he credited Taniwharau for their fightback.