The Hamilton City Tigers have the chance to go back to back in the WaiCoa Bays club rugby league competition, with the defending champions through to this weekend's grand final.
On Saturday the Tigers were too good for last year's runners-up Taniwharau, winning the semifinal 22-10 at Resthills Park in Hamilton.
But awaiting the Tigers in the decider is an in-form Ngaruawahia Panthers side, who were convincing in their semifinal, crushing the Pacific Sharks 44-6 at Davies Park in Huntly.
The Panthers ran in eight tries, through Waka Sweet (two), Tama Aspinall, Mounga Molisi, Tony Tu'ungafasa, Norman Solofa, Ryan Laurenson and Te Ahuru Harrison, as their forward pack dominated, with Aspinall outstanding.
They took a 28-0 lead to halftime and although the Tokoroa-based but Bay of Plenty aligned Sharks scored first in the second spell, there was no coming back.
Their five-eighth Vinnie Morunga and fullback Ezra Takiri were good, but with no go forward ball the Sharks' backline struggled to operate.
Panthers fullback Marrin Haggie was solid at fullback and kicked six from eight conversions, including some beauties from out wide.
Meanwhile, the Tigers and Taniwharau got locked in an arm wrestle in the first half of their clash.
It took until the 37th minute for the deadlock to be broken, when Tigers lock Nicholas Read made a superb break, going 40 metres, before putting replacement hooker Jamal Tamaiva in under the posts, after he sped up in support.
Then right on halftime the home side struck a crucial blow. With Taniwharau coming off their own line, Tigers halfback Hayden Karena forced a one on one strip and the captain strolled over to extend the advantage. Vaughan Calcinai's conversion made it 12-0 at the break.
The visitors almost hit back 11 minutes into the second half, when fullback Malcolm Noda regathered a kick and dived over but lost the ball in a juggle, before a bust from Tigers centre Namu Puru set up Karena to kick for winger Ray Wallace, who caught it and ran in to score.
If the game wasn't out of sight for Taniwharau then, it was in the 62nd minute when Tigers hooker David Hardy caught out some slow marker defence and dived over from dummy half.
In the 70th minute Taniwharau got on the board when hooker Jason Watkins dived on a grubber from halfback William Rangi, and with four minutes remaining a short ball from Rangi put Te Arawa Maipi in.
This Saturday's final will be at Davies Park at 2.45pm, but neither team will be happy with the venue decision made by the Waikato Rugby League board.
With the Tigers and Panthers both having won their pools, they appeared to have an equal right to host the decider, but the Panthers have been given that right, based on a ludicrous judgment of having been seeded higher than the Tigers following the round robin section of the Waikato competition, which the Tigers went on to win.
The Panthers home advantage is snubbed, however, as the WRL force all their playoff matches to be played not at League Park in Ngaruawahia, but at Davies Park in Huntly, which can hold more people.
- © Fairfax NZ News