RED-HOT PANTHERS ROAST HORNETS IN ONE-SIDED SEMI
Hornby Panthers made a massive statement in their sudden-death semi on Saturday afternoon, thumping Halswell Hornets 50-6 at Leslie Park to book a preliminary final showdown with Northern Bulldogs next week.
The Panthers were quick out of the blocks and put on an attacking masterclass throughout, leading 22-0 at halftime and finishing with nine tries.
With livewire halfback Brad Campbell probing all afternoon and captain James Baxendale and experienced prop Rulon Nutira causing havoc in the centre of the field, the Panthers’ rampant outside-back contingent had a field day.
Right-winger Tauvale Tauvale flashed over for the opening try, while left-winger Charlie Charlie bagged a barnstorming double and centres Willie Tafua and Dene Grace both landed on the scoresheet by finishing off long-range tries in the second half.
Baxendale scored a try and defied a stiff breeze to kick six-from-eight and evergreen second-rower Corey Lawrie capped an industrious display with a four-pointer.
Another ageless veteran, former Canterbury captain Jonny Limmer, was sensational off the bench after being injected at dummy-half. He constantly had the Hornets’ defence on the back foot and picked up a wonderful solo try before returning to the pine.
Fullback Ken Tofilau barged over for a consolation try for Halswell in the latter stages.
Hornby coach Jed Lawrie believes his side is nearing their best form after a patchy regular-season by the club’s lofty standards.
“It’s good being back to full-strength, in those crucial grind moments that experience showed,” Lawrie said.
“We’re trying to build off finishing third so hopefully we’ll go out next week and put in another good performance.”
It was a forgettable return to finals football for the Hornets – who finished fourth after collecting consecutive wooden spoons in 2016-17 – and coach Rob Faalilo said his charges simply lacked the application to keep up with a red-hot Panthers outfit.
“They played far harder than we did and we had too many errors throughout the game,” Faalilo lamented.
“We made 17 or 18 errors, so it makes it tough when you give that much possession to a team bringing it at you.”
Hornby face second-placed Northern – who suffered a heavy 48-10 loss to unbeaten Linwood in the other semi – in a massive preliminary final match-up at Murphy Park next Saturday.
Meanwhile, Riccarton Knights kept their hopes alive of replicating the Hornets’ 2017 feat of winning the Gore Cup from last place, despatching Papanui Tigers 36-16. Lock Zion Kamana scored two of the Knights’ seven tries.
Aranui Eagles moved into the Gore Cup final with a resounding 42-22 defeat of Celebration Lions after leading 22-10 at halftime.
In lower-grade action, Shirley Hawks are in celebration mode after qualifying for a historic Canterbury Cup grand final berth with a 16-12 upset of top-of-the-table Linwood.
The Keas get a chance at forcing a rematch with the Hawks when they face the Bulldogs, who outlasted the Panthers 26-16 in the Canterbury Cup elimination semi.
Burnham Chevaliers powered into the Division One grand final with a 44-16 thrashing Ashburton Barbarians at Coronation Park.
Woolston Rams kept their title defence alive by edging Marist Saints Gold 24-20 in a replay of the 2017 decider. The Rams led by 20 before holding off a Saints surge.
Ashburton and Woolston square off at Robilliard Park next Saturday for the opportunity to meet Burnham in the grand final.