CRL SEMI-FINALS PREVIEW
Everything you need to know ahead of a massive semi-final weekend throughout the Canterbury Rugby League senior grades!
Linwood Keas (1) v Hornby Panthers (2) – 2.45pm, Saturday, August 10 @ Linwood Park
Another chapter of arguably the greatest modern rivalry in Canterbury Rugby League will be written at Linwood Park on Saturday. Linwood Keas and Hornby Panthers have faced off in the past three men’s premiership grand finals – with the Keas winning all three – and a spot in the historic 2019 decider at Ngā Puna Wai is on offer here.
The heavyweights have again proved themselves a cut above this season, while there has barely been a struck match between them in two absorbing home-and-away clashes. Linwood finished top of the Massetti Cup ladder after losing just one game – a 20-12 defeat to Hornby at Linwood Park in Round 3. But the Keas snared a 20-18 result at Leslie Park in Round 10, effectively deciding the minor premiership.
Both sides are blessed with tough, dynamic forward packs – led by indomitable skippers Paul Sauni and James Baxendale – and stacks of firepower out wide. Wing newcomer Rangi Thompson has scored 15 tries in just 10 games for the Keas, while Danny Latu has crossed 13 times in 12 appearances. Panthers young guns Jordan Coleman (15 tries in 10 games) and Regan Stanton (10 tries in 11 games) have been similarly potent.
Then there’s a mouth-watering halves match-up between Linwood veterans Daniel Hartley and Toi Sepuloni, and Hornby’s Rockcote Canterbury Bulls incumbents Brad Campbell and Tevin Arona.
Linwood Park will be heaving for what shapes as another absolute classic between the big guns.
Northern Bulldogs (3) v Eastern Eagles (4) – 2.45pm, Saturday, August 10 @ Murphy Park
Third-placed Northern Bulldogs qualified for the Massetti Cup finals for the second season in a row, while Eastern Eagles ended a nine-year playoffs drought by snatching fourth spot in a thrilling finish to the regular season.
The Eagles put a few late-season stumbles behind them to carve out a 31-16 final-round win over Riccarton Knights in a virtual fourth-place playoff. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have built real momentum and consistency after a shaky start – their only losses since late-April were to the Keas and Panthers.
Northern came out on top in both regular-season clashes with Eastern, winning 28-14 at Murphy Park in Round 3 and 24-12 at Wainoni Park in Round 10.
The Bulldogs will lean heavily on the experience provided by halves Izic Placid and Darren Tonihi – who teamed up to steer Papanui to the 2015 premiership – as well as centre Vinnie Paul, forward stalwart Patella Tou and captain Steven Maat. But wily Eagles half Tama Walker, brothers Junior and Peneli Peneli – who have scored 15 tries between them this season – and the well-travelled Cyrus Timo-Latu will ensure the hosts have to play until the 80th minute if they are to progress to the preliminary final.
There’s still plenty at stake over the next few weeks for the teams that missed out on the Massetti Cup playoffs. The bottom four sides will vie for the Gore Cup, which mirrors the Massetti Cup finals draw.
The fifth-placed Riccarton Knights host the sixth-placed Halswell Hornets, with the winner to go straight through to the August 24 Gore Cup final. The Knights downed the Hornets 30-18 early in the season, but they will be out to avenge their two-point loss at Halswell in Round 10, which proved crucial as they finished one win shy of the finals.
The sudden-death clash between Celebration and Papanui sees both clubs striving to snap lengthy losing streaks. The Tigers’ two wins this season came in the opening three rounds – including a 29-22 defeat of the Lions – but they have lost 11 straight since. The Lions won just one of their last eight regular-season fixtures, a 32-10 home defeat of the Tigers in Round 10.
Celebration is the defending Gore Cup champion.
Riccarton Knights (5) v Halswell Hornets (6) – 2.45pm, Saturday, August 10 @ Crosbie Park
Celebration Lions (7) v Papanui Tigers (8) – 2.45pm, Saturday, August 10 @ Cuthberts Green
Linwood Keas finished six points clear at the top of the premier reserves table and lost just one game in the regular season. But that defeat came at Linwood Park against this weekend’s major semi opponents, the second-placed Shirley Hawks. The slow-starting Hawks’ 28-14 win over the Keas in Round 15 was part of an eight-match winning streak to finish the regular season, which saw them sneak into second on for-and-against. Will the Keas’ experience and a vocal home crowd be enough to halt the Hawks’ momentum?
Northern Bulldogs’ final-round loss to the Keas saw them slip to third and pitched the defending Canterbury Cup champs into a sudden-death minor semi against Hornby Panthers. But it also allows them to play in front of a big crowd in Kaiapoi ahead of the Massetti Cup semi. The Panthers racked up a 42-20 win at Murphy Park in Round 1, but the Bulldogs turned the tables at Hornby in Round 10 with a 48-4 rout.
Linwood Keas v Shirley Hawks – 1.00pm, Saturday, August 10 @ Linwood Park
Northern Bulldogs v Hornby Panthers – 1.00pm, Saturday, August 10 @ Murphy Park
Marist Saints finished seven points clear at the top of the Division One table, but they need to topple defending champs Burnham Chevaliers to earn a week off and a spot in the 2019 grand final. The Saints have had the wood on the Chevaliers all season, winning 38-24 and 32-24 away either side of a 42-24 home victory. Expect another high-scoring affair in Saturday’s major semi.
The minor semi is an intriguing showdown in Ashburton between the third-placed Barbarians and the fourth-placed Woolston Rams, last season’s beaten grand finalists. Due to byes and defaults, the Barbarians have not played in over a month. Meanwhile, the 2019 ledger is all square between the clubs – the Barbarians won 32-24 at home early in the season, a Round 7 clash at Woolston finished 20-all, and the Rams prevailed 22-16 at Robilliard Park in Round 12.
Marist Saints (1) v Burnham Chevaliers (2) – 1.00pm, Saturday, August 10 @ Bishopdale Park
Ashburton Barbarians (3) v Woolston Rams (4) – 1.00pm, Saturday, August 10 @ Robilliard Park
Burnham Chevaliers’ unbeaten 2019 record – and a grand final spot – goes on the line when they host defending CRL women’s premiers Linwood Keas on Sunday. The Chevaliers won all three regular-season clashes between the sides, but the last two were decided by just four and eight points respectively. The clubs contributed the bulk of the Canterbury women’s squad for the recent National Women’s Tournament in Auckland and both teams will be eager to earn a crucial psychological boost ahead of a potential grand final rematch in two weeks’ time.
Hornby Panthers will start warm favourites in the sudden-death minor semi against Eastern Eagles. The Panthers’ only losses this season have been to the heavyweight Chevaliers and Keas, while they have piled on 158 points in three wins over the Eagles this season.
Burnham Chevaliers (1) v Keas (2) – 1.00pm, Sunday, August 11 @ Coronation Park
Hornby Panthers (3) v Eastern Eagles (4) – 1.00pm, Sunday, August 11 @ Branston Park