Linwood Keas have achieved the record-equalling feat of four straight Pat Smith Trophy triumphs in a titanic inaugural Men’s Premiership grand final at Ngā Puna Wai, downing Hornby Panthers 28-12 in front of a horde of passionate and parochial fans.

The showcase piece of  Grand Final Day at Ngā Puna Wai delivered once again as Linwood and Hornby added another chapter to their storied rivalry – the club’s fourth consecutive meeting in the premiership decider.

Hornby started the stronger and elected to take the points early through a successful penalty goal by co-captain James Baxendale after five minutes.

The early exchanges were dominated by the Panthers, both in terms of territory and possession.

After 10 minutes, deciding against another shot at goal, Hornby posted the first try through swift passing that saw left winger Tauvale Tauvale dot down in the corner. Baxendale was on song with his conversion from the sideline to push his side out to 8-0.

Linwood started to get into the game and a lovely dart by dummy-half Alani Kakoi saw the Keas register their first try of the afternoon, which was duly converted by halfback Daniel Hartley.

Kakoi’s try ignited the Keas’ attack and they would have scored from the kick-off if not for the gallant work of the Panthers’ outside-backs to defuse the situation.

The game entered attritional mode as both teams traded sets, becoming a familiar dogfight between the 20-metre lines.

A little after the half-hour mark, a mistake by Tauvale gave Linwood a rare taste of good territory and the defending champs were rewarded with a slick finish in the corner by Ben Ilalio.

Despite the missed conversion by Hartley, the Keas took the lead for the first time in the match 10-8.

There was a lengthy stoppage of play just before halftime as Panthers interchange Damien Papuni suffered a serious leg injury after landing awkwardly in a tackle.

Not long after play had resumed – with Papuni stretchered off by medical staff – Linwood launched a raid on the Hornby line and another polished interchanging of passing saw Matt Sauni dot down with a little over two minutes remaining in the first half.

Hartley wasn’t missing two goals in a row and took the Keas’ lead to beyond a converted try.

After starting the game so strongly, the Panthers fell away during the backend of the half and the Keas capitalised, meaning they went into the break trailing 16-8 – just 40 minutes away from a history-making fourth title in a row.

As the second half began it was vital for Hornby to wrest the momentum back from Linwood.

Teenaged second-row sensation Caius Faatili’s 40-metre burst down the left edge – powering through three Keas defenders – had the Panthers threatening to score first in the second half. But the team in green held firm and Hartley kicked a 40/20 on the ensuing set to put the Keas back on the offensive.

Hornby’s weight of possession soon told and just as they did in the first half, they were the first score in the second. Co-captain Rulon Nutira bulldozed his way over but the conversion was unsuccessful, leaving Linwood with a 16-12 lead with 25 minutes remaining.

An error at the back from the Panthers gave the Keas a chance to stretch their lead but a forward pass denied right winger Ilalio a double.

Soon afterwards, a scything run by Hartley provided the Keas with a try that swung the grand final, before adding the conversion to make it 22-12 with around a quarter of an hour to go.

With the minutes ticking away, the Keas began to strangle the life out of the Panthers, who had no answer for the metronomic accuracy of Hartley’s general kicking game.

In the 71st minute, Linwood landed the killer blow through indefatigable prop Alex Todd, who scored the match-winner in the 2018 grand final. Todd’s try extended the lead to an unassailable 16 points and clinching a remarkable ‘four-peat’ of CRL premiership successes.

On the other side of the fence, the proud Hornby Panthers were consigned to more grand final heartbreak – an unwanted record of four straight losses on the biggest day on Canterbury Rugby League’s calendar as their hopes of breaking the Keas’ dynasty were dashed for another season.

Hartley, who controlled the game beautifully with his vision and game awareness, was awarded the prestigious Mel Cooke Trophy as player of the match. The halfback’s class helped ensure Linwood matched the feats of past clubs to win four straight titles – Sydenham (1953-1956), Hornby (1964-1967) and Papanui (1971-1974) – while they became just the second club after the Tigers to prevail in four consecutive years during the grand final era (1967-present).



Linwood Keas 28 (Alani Kakoi, Ben Ilalio, Matt Sauni, Daniel Hartley, Alex Todd tries; Hartley 4 goals) defeated Hornby Panthers 12 (Tauvale Tauvale, Rulon Nutira tries; James Baxendale 2 goals) at Ngā Puna Wai


Photo Credit: CMG Sports

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