HORNBY NOT HAUNTED BY HISTORY IN CHASE FOR DROUGHT-BREAKING GF WIN
Hornby Panthers are unfazed by their semi-final defeat to Linwood Keas – or their recent Grand Final heartache at the hands of their archrivals – as the clubs prepare for yet another Bartercard NZ CRL Men’s Premiership decider on Sunday at Ngā Puna Wai.
The Panthers bounced back from a tight, physical 14-10 major semi loss to the Keas a fortnight ago with an equally tense 22-14 preliminary final victory over Halswell Hornets last weekend, surging late after the scores were locked midway through the second half.
“I thought Halswell played very well, they completed and we just hung in there,” Hornby coach Jed Lawrie says.
“We had that bit of push at the end, so that gives us some confidence going into Sunday the way we finished that game off. Our completion rate, at times that lets us down so that’s a big focus going into Sunday.
“The boys are excited, with every Grand Final everyone’s excited but we’ve got a lot of new boys and it’s an opportunity for them to experience Grand Final Day.”
Hornby and Linwood have now produced three encounters in 2021 that went down to the wire. The Panthers prevailed 14-10 at Leslie Park in Round 4, while the Keas got up 30-24 at Ngā Puna Wai in Round 12.
Lawrie is all too familiar with the Keas’ strengths and knows exactly what to expect from the five-time defending champs this weekend – and what his charges need to do to halt their reign.
“They complete well, Linwood’s always completed well and had a good kicking game,” he says.
“Defensively they work hard, we’ve got to break up their defensive systems. For us it’s a collective effort to break up those little pieces.
“In hindsight, we’re glad we lost (the semi-final). It’s given us a few areas we really need to work on so it’s given us another week to really refresh ourselves on those.”
From an outsiders’ perspective, Hornby’s four straight Grand Final defeats to Linwood from 2016-19 is an unavoidable talking point ahead of another season-ending showdown between the heavyweights.
But Lawrie, who began his coaching tenure with the Panthers in 2016, asserts that history has played a minimal role in the team’s build-up this week.
“With a new team, it’s a new opportunity for them. You can’t go on about the losses when you’ve got boys that have never played in a Grand Final before – we keep it fresh and relevant for them this week.”
Hornby holds the record for most Canterbury Rugby League Grand Final wins with 15, but the club is currently in the midst of its longest title drought since breaking a 14-year bogey in 1983.
The Panthers last saluted by going back-to-back in 2012-13, completing an eight-season period that garnered five premierships. Lawrie admits the team would love to restore that Pat Smith Trophy-winning feeling for their fans.
“We’ve got a massive supporter base at Hornby, they’ve always had our backs no matter what – stronger together – so it would awesome to be able to bring the trophy back to the club on Sunday night.”
Though there’s plenty of familiar faces, a stack of young Panthers will run out for their first top-grade CRL decider on Sunday.
But the coach hasn’t spent an excessive portion of Grand Final week mollycoddling his tyros about big-game pressure, preferring to put the onus on the team as a whole.
“We’ve talked about it as a collective – in a Grand Final it’s got to be a collective effort, from 1 to 17,” Lawrie says.
“Everyone’s had a good talk about and they’re all buying in, just a collective effort.”
Nevertheless, he is reassured by having seasoned Grand Final stalwarts such as James Baxendale, Willie Tafua, Dene Grace and his brother, the indefatigable Corey Lawrie, to steer the team through choppy waters.
“We’re lucky to have those blokes still running around for us, so they’ll be the calming influence.”
Sincere Harraway is one of the Panthers featuring in his first decider – and a player destined to have a major bearing on the result.
Earlier this year Harraway was captaining South Island from hooker in the NZRL National 20-year competition. Just five months later, the versatile game-breaker will skipper the Panthers from fullback in a Grand Final – and Lawrie has no doubts he will handle the occasion with aplomb.
“Someone like Sincere, I don’t think the event would faze someone like him too much,” the coach says.
“It’s about trying to find Sincere some clean ball, a guy like that you want to give him clean ball as much as possible. He’ll start at fullback, he could end up at half, we’ll just see how the game goes.”
BARTERCARD NZ CRL MEN’S PREMIERSHIP – 2021 GRAND FINAL: 3pm, Sunday, August 15 @ Ngā Puna Wai