CRL Grand Final Preview
Photo: Hornby Panthers’ Corey Lawrie (left), and Linwood Keas’ Aga Fiso (centre) and Paul Sauni pose with the Pat Smith Trophy at AMI Stadium.
KEAS PRIMED TO HEED LESSONS OF 2015
Last year’s grand final loss still stings for the Linwood Keas, but coach Andrew Auimatagi is confident his team will use that experience to their advantage in Sunday’s Massetti Cup decider against Hornby.
Linwood was upset 20-14 in an extra-time heartbreaker last season as Papanui overturned the Keas’ resounding semi-final victory of two weeks earlier.
Club stalwart Auimatagi, who scored a try in Linwood’s last premiership victory back in 2008, is not worried about history repeating after the Keas clinched the first grand final spot for the second year in row.
“We’ve been building up well. (I’m) pretty happy with how training’s been going and the boys are really looking forward to it,” Auimatagi says.
“After that semi against Hornby, we definitely would prefer to be the team with the week off. It was quite a physical encounter and it was good for the guys to freshen up.
“We learnt from last year, adapted things slightly but it was good to have that week off.
“The Tuesday after that semi we talked about (what we’ve learnt) from all the grand finals we’ve been in. (We) didn’t really talk about it too much, we were pretty unlucky last year but it’s what we’ve done well this season that we’ve really focussed on.”
The Keas scored a hard-fought 18-12 win over the Panthers in a gruelling semi-final a fortnight ago, and the minor premiers will look to their experienced brigade to lead the way at AMI Stadium and end the club’s eight-year title drought.
Linwood’s line-up is stacked with Canterbury Bulls reps, headlined by veteran prop Chris Bamford, industrious back-rower Aga Fiso, and the mercurial trio of Sauni brothers, Erwin, Matthew and Paul.
Paul Sauni has been under an injury cloud due to a hamstring complaint, but he has been monitored closely and is expected to play.
Besides the group of players who were foiled by the Tigers last year, Bamford – who was part of the Keas’ 2008 premiership squad and rejoined the club this year – and Alani Kakoi will also be eager to taste grand final victory after being part of Celebration Lions’ loss in the 2014 decider.
“There’s a number of guys that have played in grand finals or played rep footy, so they know what kind of environment they’re stepping into on Sunday,” Auimatagi enthuses.
“I’m sure that’ll help them a lot in terms of handling the pressure.”
Despite the semi-final result, Auimatagi remains wary of the dangers the exciting Panthers line-up pose – particularly after they inflicted one of only two Keas losses during the regular season, a 28-16 result in Round 13.
“They’ve got a really well-balanced team and we expected them to figure in the calculations at the end of the season, and they haven’t disappointed in that regard,” the Bulls coach says.
“A couple of experienced guys like James (Baxendale) and Corey (Lawrie) do a consistently good job for them every game, and also Tevin (Arona) at halfback, he’s a key part of their game as well.”
‘HORNBY WAY’ KEY TO GRAND FINAL UPSET
Hornby Panthers coach Jed Lawrie says his side can capitalise on the momentum garnered from last week’s preliminary final victory over Papanui to topple the Linwood Keas – who enjoyed a bye last weekend – in Sunday’s grand final.
The Panthers went down to the Keas 18-12 in a tough semi-final two weeks ago, but Lawrie is positive getting to the decider the hard way will hold the underdogs in good stead.
“It’s the way we’ve always done it – we call it the ‘Hornby way’ – so hopefully it helps us and slows Linwood down a bit, and they blow out a bit,” Lawrie says.
“(In) grand finals sometimes energy comes from everywhere, so it’ll be whoever defends and completes the best on the day.
“It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been there, so the boys were pretty pumped on Saturday after the game. They’re even more pumped for Sunday.”
Hornby, the most successful club in CRL history with 21 premierships (including 15 wins in the post-1967 grand final era), has a remarkable grand final record over the last decade to preserve.
Since being trounced 66-10 by Linwood in the 2005 decider, the Panthers are unbeaten in five grand final appearances, taking out the Massetti Cup in 2006, 2009-10 and 2012-13. Backing up from Hornby’s 22-20 eclipse of Halswell in 2013 this Sunday are James Baxendale, Corey Lawrie, Sean and Eugene Spooner, Paradise Mann, Damien Papuni, Craig Smith and Nicholas Stewart.
Goalkicking back-rower Baxendale is making his seventh grand final outing.
“With ‘Spoons’, Craig, Baxey, Corey, we’ve got four or five that have played a lot of finals, and we’ve got about five who are 21 (years) and under,” Jed Lawrie says.
“(The experienced players will) lead the way and hopefully calm the young boys down, and the young boys will bring a lot of energy.”
Lawrie insists that while enthusiasm is important, focussing on the basics is paramount to the Panthers’ chances of reversing the semi-final loss to the Keas.
“We’ve just got to complete for 80 (minutes),” the coach says.
“In the semi we didn’t complete enough in the second half. I think our defensive effort has been good for the last few weeks but we need to improve our completion rate.”
Hornby heads into the grand final with a full-strength squad. There was concern surrounding Mann, but the forward stalwart has been cleared to play.
The star-studded Keas boast threats across the park, but Lawrie did single out one player his charges will attempting to keep under wraps.
“One to 17 they’re strong, but Erwin (Sauni) cut us up a couple of times in that semi-final, so we’ll try and put a couple extra numbers around him.”
The opportunity to run out onto the spiritual home of Canterbury Rugby League adds an extra edge to Sunday’s grand final – and a unique opportunity for the younger members of the Panthers’ squad.
“The young boys will definitely enjoy it. It’s a rare occasion you get to play at AMI, so hopefully the boys take it in and make the most of it,” Lawrie says.
2016 Massetti Cup Grand Final – 2.00pm, Sunday, September 4 @ AMI Stadium, Addington
ROAD TO THE GRAND FINAL…
Round 1 – beat Aranui 30-4
Round 2 – beat Celebration 42-8
Round 3 – beat Riccarton 44-16
Round 4 – beat Papanui 26-10
Round 5 – beat Halswell 42-0
Round 6 – beat Hornby 30-16
Round 7 – beat Northern 41-6
Round 8 – beat Aranui 36-6
Round 9 – beat Celebration 44-14
Round 10 – lost to Riccarton 26-30
Round 11 – drew with Papanui 16-16
Round 12 – beat Halswell 54-10
Round 13 – lost to Hornby 16-28
Round 14 – beat Northern 58-5
Won 11, lost 2, drew 1 (1st)
Semi-final – beat Hornby 18-12
Round 1 – lost to Celebration 18-30
Round 2 – beat Riccarton 32-26
Round 3 – beat Papanui 26-24
Round 4 – beat Halswell 44-6
Round 5 – beat Northern 40-30
Round 6 – lost to Linwood 16-30
Round 7 – beat Aranui 34-18
Round 8 – beat Celebration 34-6
Round 9 – lost to Riccarton 18-35
Round 10 – lost to Papanui 18-26
Round 11 – beat Halswell 26-22
Round 12 – beat Northern 28-22
Round 13 – beat Linwood 28-16
Round 14 – beat Aranui 42-14
Won 10, lost 4 (2nd)
Semi-final – lost to Linwood 12-18
Preliminary final – beat Papanui 20-10
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE
Photo Credit: Geoff Sloan – The Star