Lawrie Seeking Complete Performance From Panthers
Last year’s grand finalists, Linwood and Hornby, are gearing up for a semi-final blockbuster this Saturday at Murphy Park after streeting the Massetti Cup field in the 2017 regular season.
The Keas are unbeaten since Round 1, while the Panthers lost just two of their 14 games – but Hornby coach Jed Lawrie says it’s his side that needs to improve ahead of the latest instalment of one of Canterbury Rugby League’s great rivalries.
The Panthers are on a six-match winning streak, but a pair of second-half fadeouts in the last two rounds have provided Lawrie with some food for thought.
In Round 13, Hornby led Celebration 24-4 at halftime before hanging on to win 30-26. They were out-scored in the second half again last week, prevailing 32-12 against Papanui after heading to the sheds 24-0 in front.
Lawrie knows it will take a more complete performance to clinch the first grand final spot this weekend.
“We started well (against Papanui) and probably let our standards down in the second half,” Lawrie said.
“But it was a tough finish that we needed heading into the finals anyway.
“Definitely against Linwood it takes an 80-minute performance to beat them.
“It was good to get that good hit-out against Papanui, so the boys are definitely keen and the energy was good at training on Tuesday.
“(We’ve got) a couple of niggles and it’s a light week for a couple of them, but they should be good to go Saturday.”
The Panthers scored 482 points – 87 points more than their nearest rivals – at a whopping 34 per game during the regular season and racked up 44 or more on five occasions.
Veteran back-rower James Baxendale finished 31 points clear at the top of the point-scorers’ standings, while five of the competition’s top eight try-scorers – Baxendale (11), Craig Smith (11), Charlie Charlie (9), Tauvale Tauvale (8) and Christian Eric (8) – came from the club.
But they come up against the defensive benchmark on Saturday, a Keas side that has leaked less than 13 points a game. In fact, since they were touched up 38-12 by the Panthers in the opening week of the season, the defending champs have conceded a miserly 11 points a game.
“Linwood pride themselves on the defensive side of things,” Lawrie said.
“So for us the more completions we can get through, the more we can take out their energy levels, the more we’ll be able to get on top of them and throw a lot of options at them.”
The heavyweights last met in Round 8, with Linwood taking the spoils 14-8 at Linwood Park – the only time in 2017 Hornby have been restricted to less than 20 points, and a result that ultimately decided who finished top of the table with both teams unbeaten since.
Lawrie said his side took some crucial lessons out of that loss.
“We were a bit poor with our completion rate and our kicking game was a touch off. You’ve got to complete and kick well, and defend really well.
“But it should be a good game, I think both teams will be looking forward to it.”
The Panthers certainly won’t come up short in the experience department, with long-serving skipper Baxendale and Corey Lawrie headlining a healthy contingent of stalwarts – and Jed Lawrie revealed a number of players have progressed into leadership roles during a stellar campaign to date.
“The senior guys always lead the way, but we’ve had a few step up this year with Damien Papuni and a couple of young boys coming through,” the coach said.
“And (ex-Northern recruit) Ross Turi has been massive for us this year.”
The Rockcote Canterbury Bulls assistant coach’s usual pre-match banter with Linwood mentor and Bulls head coach Andrew Auimatagi will be more low-key this week, however – Auimatagi is in camp with the New Zealand 16s squad ahead of their clash with Maori Rugby League 17s in Rotorua on Saturday.
The Linwood Keas v Hornby Panthers premiers semi-final kicks off at 2.45pm, Saturday July 22 at Murphy Park.