Akarana beat Waikato to retain national premiership rugby league title
The Akarana Falcons have made it back-to-back national premiership rugby league titles after seeing off Waikato 30-4 in the final at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Saturday night.
After taking out the revamped national competition in its first running last year, Akarana again proved too strong and finished the quickfire four-week campaign undefeated to claim the Albert Baskerville Trophy, as heavy underdogs Waikato weren't able to complete their return to the top flight in the ultimate style.
Having been made to win their way up from the championship division last year, Waikato were gallant in their campaign, turned plenty of heads, and had the chance at becoming champs 20 years on from their previous national success.
Knowing they had led the Falcons 22-6 in their round-one contest before eventually losing, Waikato went into the decider with plenty of self belief, but were ultimately overpowered by the big Akarana unit, in what were wet and slippery conditions.
READ MORE: Title there for the taking
While the visitors made a fine start - immediately forcing Akarana into repeat defensive sets - it was a mistake from fullback and captain Aaron Jolley on his own line, which led to Falcons prop Siliga Kepaoa charging over in the eighth minute.
Just six minutes later, Akarana doubled their advantage via second rower Daniel Reuelu-Buchanan, and from there, at 12-0 behind, it was always going to be challenging for Waikato to play catchup in the testing conditions.
On the half-hour they tried a trick-shot first-tackle kick from a scrum, and got a repeat set from it, but a sloppy play-the-ball from prop Pawhare Brown snuffed out their opportunity, while again a handling error plagued them late in the half, when five-eighth Darren Kingi had provided a bad short ball which Brown coughed up.
The Falcons were unlucky not to extend their margin in the first minute of the second half, when centre Cole Waaka was harshly penalised for a double movement when sliding over, but by the 48th minute the hosts had scored twice anyway, with second rower Taylor Daniels reaching out, then halfback Philip Kingi going over on the back of what looked to be a forward pass from Daniels - who was later named player of the match.
All of a sudden it was 24-0, and Waikato were all but out of it. Things were made worse for them when captain Jolley was forthrightly sin binned when referee Chris McMillan had had enough of his "constant screaming and yelling".
The Falcons were themselves reduced to 12, too, when, on the hour-mark, Reuelu-Buchanan was sent sideline after four team infringements in quick succession, and from there Waikato worked left and winger Eric Taiulu did well to burrow over in the corner.
It was to be their only points of the contest, though, and inside the final five minutes Waaka scored off a line-ball knock-on decision to add salt into the wound.
Meanwhile, the Counties Manukau Stingrays annihilated the Bay of Plenty Lakers 64-4 in the promotion/relegation game, played as the curtain raiser to the final.
Bidding to follow Waikato's lead from last year and earn promotion to the premiership after winning the championship division - against Wellington and Otago - Bay of Plenty were nowhere near a chance, with the match representing a massive gulf in class.
The Stingrays scored 13 tries, and the scoreline could have been even more embarrassing had they managed more than just their six goals.
They opened the scoring in just the third minute, then went at a point a minute, and better, for much of the first half, as they continued to embarrass the Lakers' defence.
Bay of Plenty did get on the board after half an hour but had centre Dylan Shortland sin binned for holding down in the tackle, and went to the break already down 34-4.
Counties quickly exposed more woeful goal-line defence early in the second half, and centre Roydon Gillett and winger Buchanan Rawhiti both went on to record hat-tricks.
Earlier in the day, the New Zealand Secondary Schools side again proved far too strong for the NSW Combined High Schools team, winning 52-4, having beaten them 44-4 in Rotorua on Wednesday night.
AT A GLANCE
Akarana Falcons 30 (Siliga Kepaoa, Daniel Reuelu-Buchanan, Taylor Daniels, Philip Kingi, Cole Waaka tries; Mark Graham 5 goals) Waikato 4 (Eric Taiulu try). HT: 12-0.
Counties Manukau Stingrays 64 (Roydon Gillett 3, Buchanan Rawhiti 3, Nicholas Wilson 2, David Toetu, John Vuetibau, Reece Joyce, Michael Blucher, William Stowers tries; William Stowers 3, Buchanan Rawhiti 2, Sitiveni Taufa goals) Bay of Plenty Lakers 4 (Cameron Walters tries; goals). HT: 34-4.