CRL Preliminary Final Wrap: Keas Clinch GF Spot
Linwood Keas have advanced to a Canterbury Rugby League grand final rematch with Hornby Panthers, but the defending champs were taken down to the wire by a gallant Papanui Tigers outfit in a preliminary final thriller at Murphy Park, eventually prevailing 30-24.
The Keas were forced to overcome a 10-0 deficit amidst an error-riddled start, before withstanding a blistering late comeback by the underdogs Tigers.
Four unanswered tries – two either side of halftime – provided the impetus for the Keas to snare a spot in the decider for the third consecutive season.
“That effort in the second half was where we need to be, the boys dug deep and delivered when it counted most,” Linwood coach Andrew Auimatagi said.
Tigers halfback Izic Placid brilliantly laid on the first try for rampaging prop Isaac Malitoa, before centre Cyrus Timo-Latu’s four-pointer pushed the black-and-golds out to a double-digit lead.
Tries to fullback Erwin Sauni and recent New Zealand Warriors signing Graeme Patu-Vaega’au levelled the scores at the break, before Phil Wahnig crossed for the opening try of the second half and Paul Sauni snaffled a 50-metre intercept to give the Keas a 20-10 advantage.
Papanui responded through Kyle Pauro, but Linwood looked to have put the result to bed at 26-14 when Paul Sauni powered over for his second.
The Tigers refused to throw in the towel, however, and set up a grandstand finish when Joshua Ka slipped over from dummy-half and Joshua Aileone dotted down for a spectacular try in the corner in the space of three minutes.
With time almost up, Placid’s sideline conversion attempt to lock up the scores faded agonisingly across the face of the uprights, and Paul Sauni crossed in the dying seconds to complete his hat-trick.
Auimatagi admitted his side will have to improve on their recent first-half performances, having slipped two tries behind in both finals matches to date.
“We’ve been focusing on our starts, but something’s not going right for us – there’s just little moments where we’ve switched off,” Auimatagi said.
“The key to beating Hornby is controlling the ball and a big effort in defence. We know what we need to do, we just have to be tidier in those areas.”
While halfback Sauni’s second-half treble was vital, there wasn’t a better player on the field than Jiordan Fidow-Kele, whose barnstorming front-row display consistently put the Keas on the front foot.
Papanui coach Shane Endacott lauded his troops’ performance after they had failed to score a point against Linwood in both regular-season clashes, but lamented a lost opportunity after the Tigers surrendered their early lead.
“I’m very proud, especially considering in the two games during the year we went down 13-0 and 28-0, so to be competitive and for it to go down to the wire was great,” Endacott said.
“(Coming back late) showed our spirit – we’ve got a lot of it, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough.
“Every try they scored was off an error from us. It just shows that to win those tight games you’ve got to hold the football.”
Endacott, who coached the Tigers to a drought-breaking premiership in his first season at the helm in 2015, also revealed that he was stepping down from the coaching caper after a highly-successful three-season stint with the club.
“When I took over as coach my goal was to make the top four three years in a row and get some consistency, so we’ve achieved that. To win the grand final in that first year was a bonus.
“That’s it for me, mate – two years at Halswell and three at Papanui, that’s five years trying to give something back to the game that I love, so it’s probably time to focus on business and family.”
CRL PREMIERS PRELIMINARY FINAL
Linwood Keas 30 (Paul Sauni 3, Erwin Sauni, Phil Wahnig, Graeme Patu-Vaega’au tries; Toi Sepuloni 3 goals) d. Papanui Tigers 24 (Isaac Maliota, Cyrus Timo-Latu, Kyle Pauro, Joshua Ka, Joshua Aileone tries; Izic Placid 2 goals).
Halswell Hornets 42 (Ben Ilalio 3, Aaron Fiveash 2, Ben Evans, Sean Scott, Jason Galland, Richie French tries; Jamie Nuttridge 3 goals) d. Northern Bulldogs 16 (John Kaukura, Cameron Godfrey, Chase Williams tries; Richie Tipley 2 goals).
CANTERBURY CUP PRELIMINARY FINAL
Linwood Keas 28 d. Shirley Hawks 20