The race for the 2019 Canterbury Rugby League men’s premiership semi-finals went down to the wire – and Eastern Eagles clinched fourth spot in a final-round shootout with Riccarton Knights on Saturday.

Both teams headed into their last Massetti Cup regular-season fixture locked on 12 points, but the Eagles handled the pressure and took advantage of the Wainoni Park crowd support in a rousing 31-16 triumph over the Knights.

The Eagles had one foot in the playoffs door by halftime, taking a 20-6 lead into the break. The home side held off a Knights rally in the second stanza to finish six-tries-to-three victors, with Josh Afamasaga and Sea Muaimalae bagging doubles.

Northern Bulldogs warmed up for the semi-finals with a 16-0 shutout of Celebration Lions at Cuthberts Green. Already assured of third place, the Bulldogs finished the regular season with an 9-5 record after winning five of their last six games.

Five-eighth linchpin Izic Placid – returning from a two-week layoff – and lock Patella Tou crossed for first-half tries as the visitors took a 12-0 lead into the break. Vinnie Paul came off the bench to score his eighth try of 2019 in the second half and seal the victory.

The Bulldogs will host the Eagles in a sudden-death semi-final at Murphy Park.

Meanwhile, top-two heavyweights Linwood Keas and Hornby Panthers sounded ominous warnings ahead of the finals.

The Keas racked up an eye-watering 94-6 win over bottom-placed Papanui Tigers at Linwood Park, running in 17 tries to secure a top-of-the-table finish. The three-time premiers outscored the Tigers 54-0 in the second half.

Winger Rangi Thompson finished with four tries, while fullback Jesse Rangihuna notched a hat-trick and Daniel Hartley booted 13 goals. Will Yeow also marked his 50th premiers appearance for the Keas with a four-pointer.

Not to be outdone, the Panthers flexed their muscle with an 86-8 rout of Halswell Hornets at Leslie Park.

Leading 32-8 at the break, Hornby piled on 56 unanswered points in the second half. Winger Pesini Tavake was the main beneficiary of the Panthers’ dominance, crossing for five of their 16 tries. Centre Dene Grace recorded a hat-trick and skipper James Baxendale enjoyed a 26-point haul from a try and 11 goals.

Making just his second appearance of the Massetti Cup campaign after a long injury layoff, Tevin Arona scored two tries for the Panthers from five-eighth.

Linwood and Hornby – grand final opponents for the past three seasons – will resume their rivalry in a blockbuster major semi-final.



Eastern Eagles 31 (Josh Afamasaga 2, Sea Muaimalae 2, Matt Clydesdale, Mesiah Ngatuere tries; Junior Peneli 3 goals; Tama Walker field goal) defeated Riccarton Knights 16 (Justin Lynch, Zion Kamana, Seleni Tagicakibau tries; Tele Elia 2 goals) at Wainoni Park

Northern Bulldogs 16 (Izic Placid, Patella Tou, Vinnie Paul tries; Nathaniel Tirikatene 2 goals) defeated Celebration Lions 0 at Cuthberts Green

Linwood Keas 94 (Rangi Thompson 4, Jesse Rangihuna 3, Matthew Sauni 2, Ben Ilalio, Will Yeow, Thoren Fidow-Kele, Jiordan Fidow-Kele, Paul Sauni, Mike Nicholls-Cane, Graeme Patu-Vaega’au, Zac Ruri tries; Daniel Hartley 13 goals) defeated Papanui Tigers 6 (Sonny Hammond try; Hayden Thompson goal) at Linwood Park

Hornby Panthers 86 (Pesini Tavake 5, Dene Grace 3, Regan Stanton 2, Tevin Arona 2, Keletisia Tongotongo 2, Tauvale Tauvale, James Baxendale tries; Baxendale 11 goals) defeated Halswell Hornets 8 (Levi Morunga, Nick Evans tries) at Leslie Park



Linwood Keas 26 (+308), Hornby Panthers 24 (+420), Northern Bulldogs 18 (+182), Eastern Eagles 14 (-1), Riccarton Knights 12 (+7), Halswell Hornets 8 (-330), Celebration Lions 6 (-141), Papanui Tigers 4 (-445)


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