CRL GRAND FINAL DAY: KEAS MAKE IT FIVE STRAIGHT IN EPIC DECIDER
Linwood Keas have secured an unprecedented fifth straight Canterbury Rugby League grand final triumph, but rarely during the club’s incredible run has the team been tested as strenuously as they were in their 16-10 Pat Smith Trophy decider win over a gallant Northern Bulldogs outfit.
In one of the most bruising and dramatic CRL grand finals in recent memory, the Keas were forced to claw back from an early 10-0 deficit, while they clung desperately to a narrow lead for 35 minutes after scoring the only try of the second half.
Opposing wing giants Penetito Ilalio (Keas) and Atunaisa Takubu (Bulldogs) sparked the crowd into action in the opening minutes with barnstorming breaks.
But it was tireless Northern back-rower Cameron Godfrey who earned the first entry on the scoresheet, jinking his way through after six minutes. Izic Placid’s conversion attempt from wide out high both uprights before being waved away.
The Bulldogs surged to a 10-0 lead thanks to a piece of individual brilliance from Zac Riley. The livewire hooker cut the Keas’ defence to shreds from the back of the scrum to score.
The four-time champs finally settled and posted consecutive tries in the space of a few minutes with centres Matt Sauni and Willie Yeow too strong close to the line.
Toi Sepuloni pulled both conversion attempts to leave the Keas two points in arrears.
Matt Sauni’s trademark hard-running class and big-match experience came to the fore five minutes into the second half, busting several tackles before plunging over for his second try.
But the Bulldogs put the pressure right back on the Keas with a sensational last-tackle break from left winger Petaia Saukuru that finished just short of the try-line. A thunderous tackle from Godfrey on the Keas’ Ketesamane Pouli seconds later forced the winger from the field and won a turnover, but the Bulldogs were unable to cash in on their full set inside the 20.
Linwood then set about turning the screws on Northern with bruising defence and clinical play focused on completing sets.
The Bulldogs’ subsequent chances on attack went to waste, while they lost the inspirational Godfrey to injury in inside the last 10 minutes.
Toi Sepuloni gave the Keas breathing space with a 32-metre penalty goal six minutes from fulltime. But an error two tackles after the sparked the Bulldogs into life.
Linwood was forced to survive three defensive sets on their line in the dying minutes, with Northern going within inches of scoring on several occasions.
Grand final specialist and vice-captain Alex Todd was awarded the Mel Cooke Trophy for the third time as most valuable player of the decider, while skipper Paul Sauni was carried shoulder-high off Ngā Puna Wai in a memorable postscript to an unforgettable encounter.
Linwood Keas 16 (Matt Sauni 2, Willie Yeow tries; Toi Sepuloni 2 goals) defeated Northern Bulldogs 10 (Cameron Godfrey, Zac Riley tries; Izic Placid goals) at Ngā Puna Wai
WHEN THEY SCORED
6 min: Northern 4-0 (Godfrey try)
16 min: Northern 10-0 (Riley try, Placid goal)
29 min: Northern 10- (M. Sauni try)
33 min: Northern 10-8 (Yeow try)
45 min: Linwood 14-10 (M. Sauni try, Sepuloni goal)
74 min: Linwood 16-10 (Sepuloni goal)