The Rockcote Canterbury Bulls ran out emphatic 52-6 winners over Waikato in Round 2 of the NZRL National Premiership, putting an error-strewn period behind them to pile on six tries in the last 20 minutes at Rugby League Park in Christchurch.

After upsetting Counties Manukau six days earlier, Canterbury’s landslide victory puts them in the box seat for a spot in their first final since 2015.

The home side led 16-0 in even time but a lack of discipline with the ball at the back-end of the first half and the start of the second half made for a scrappy spectacle. However, the Rockcote Bulls’ sizzling finish to the game provides confidence ahead of next Saturday’s blockbuster against Akarana and a likely rematch with the Falcons in the October 6 decider.

Halfback Brad Campbell was again magnificent, fullback Tauvale Tauvale was a constant menace to the Waikato defence and scored two tries and set one up, Ben Ilalio notched a barnstorming double in a strong performance, and Paul Sauni had two try-assists while fellow forward-pack veterans Rulon Nutira, James Baxendale, Alex Todd and Alani Kakoi all had big games.

Canterbury withstood an early attacking barrage from Waikato, stoutly defending a couple of sets on their own try-line.

The Rockcote Bulls drew first blood in the eighth minute when a beautiful cut-out ball from the 19-year-old Campbell put Ilalio into space. The giant winger put his name on the scoresheet for the second straight week with a pair of fends and outstanding footwork.

The hosts raced to a 12-0 lead in their ensuing set, Paul Sauni slicing through the line and putting away Tauvale for the try.

Tauvale had a brace at the 17-minute mark, producing a great step and a powerful fend to leave the Waikato defence in ruins.

But weight of possession eventually told for the visitors, responding through fullback Duane Sykes on the back of a third line dropout and a penalty.

The remainder of the first half was dominated by errors from both teams, but the Rockcote Bulls struck a crucial blow in the 37th minute to take a 22-6 advantage into the break. Dynamic interchange hooker Cyrus Timo-Latu beat five defenders on a stunning dummy-half run to the try-line.

Handling let Canterbury down badly in the opening 20 minutes of the second stanza but Waikato were unable to capitalise on a torrent of possession in good field position.

The Rockcote Bulls regrouped in the 61st minute via an Alani Kakoi try, the Linwood rake barging over from close-range. Baxendale’s fourth conversion made it 28-6.

Waikato’s defensive floodgates reopened from that point as Canterbury crossed with their next possession. Slick short-side passing from Kakoi and Paul Sauni produced a try for Matt Sauni, who came into the side at centre for Dene Grace (family bereavement) in the only change to last week’s line-up.

Will Yeow dotted down with 11 minutes to go off a brilliant cross-field kick from Toi Sepuloni, before Baxendale capped a wonderful performance with a strong solo try.

The onslaught continued in the 76th minute when Tauvale made another searing break and positioned the livewire Campbell for a well-deserved four-pointer. Ben Ilalio chalked up the Rockcote Bulls’ half-century by backing up a Kakoi dart and reaching out for his second.

A win by the Falcons over the Stingrays in Saturday’s other Premiership clash would guarantee the Rockcote Bulls’ passage to the final with one round remaining.

Rockcote Canterbury Bulls 52 (Tauvale Tauvale 2, Ben Ilalio 2, Cyrus Timo-Latu, Alani Kakoi, Matt Sauni, Will Yeow, James Baxendale, Brad Campbell tries; Baxendale 6 goals) defeated Waikato 6 (Duane Sykes try; Hayden Karena goal) at Rugby League Park, Christchurch. Halftime: Canterbury 22-6. Referee: Chris McMillan. Touch judges: Manu Varney and Jason Wilson.


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