The New Era Glazing Canterbury Bulls stayed in the hunt for a spot in the NZRL National Premiership final courtesy of a 36-24 victory over Waikato Mana in an entertaining Round 2 clash at Ngā Puna Wai.

The Bulls held a tenuous 16-10 lead at the break but took the match away from the Mana with four unanswered tries during the second stanza. Twelve tries were scored in all, including several sensational long-range efforts from the Bulls.

Canterbury capitalised on a couple of early penalties to open the scoring after six minutes. Hulking front-rower Champ Betham carried a couple of Waikato defenders over the line and crashed over under the posts.

But the Mana opened their account in the 11th minute through second-rower Waka Heke-Sweet, who brilliantly gathered in a kick on the Bulls’ goal-line. Mikaere Beattie’s impressive negotiation of the blustery conditions to slot the conversion levelled the scores at 6-all.

Bulls centre Jope Tagicakibau narrowly missed an 18th-minute tryscoring chance off a deft grubber from halfback Zac Riley, who forced a line dropout during the home side’s next visit to Waikato’s end of the field with another well-placed kick.

Canterbury regained the lead when interchange hooker Klayton Waikato caught the defence napping and dived over from close range for a 10-6 lead.

The New Era Glazing Bulls extended the advantage to 10 points with seven minutes of the first half remaining via a dazzling 60-metre try. Fullback Mapu Uasi sliced through and linked with big winger Ben Ilalio, who found Vinnie Paul before taking the return pass from his centre and accelerating away from the Mana cover defence to score.

But the Mana struck a much-needed blow three minutes out from halftime, winger Jordan Tai-Rakena producing a spectacular diving finish to dot down in the corner.

Waikato got off to a second-half flyer with five-eighth Darren Kingi muscling over after just two minutes, but Canterbury wasted little time in hitting back through experienced centre Vinnie Paul after good lead-up work from five-eighth Aaron Fiveash.

The Bulls pushed out to 24-14 thanks to a piece of brilliance from winger Nick Evans, who batted back a Riley kick that seemed certain to dead in-goal. Uasi followed up to force the ball out wide.

Canterbury’s long-range strike-power busted the game open as the hour mark approached. Superb quick hands down a narrow blindside from Fiveash and Paul released Ilalio into space near halfway, and the flamboyant flyer stepped inside the Waikato fullback to race away for his second.

Fiveash put the result beyond doubt when he scooped up a loose ball on the Bulls’ 20-metre line, outpacing the Mana defence on a thrilling run to the try-line. Uasi’s wobbly sideline conversion put the hosts 36-14 ahead with nine minutes left.

Waikato bagged a couple of late consolation tries through hard-charging centre Tumatauenga Te Koi and determined prop Pawhare Brown.

New Era Glazing Canterbury Bulls 36 (Ben Ilalio 2, Champ Betham, Klayton Waikato, Vinnie Paul, Mapu Uasi Aaron Fiveash tries; Mapu Uasi 4 goals) defeated Waikato Mana 24 at Ngā Puna Wai

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