CRUNCH TIME FOR SENZ CANTERBURY BULLS IN DUNEDIN
The NZRL National Premiership Round 3 showdown between southern rivals Otago Whalers and the SENZ Canterbury Bulls doubles as a shootout for a semi-final spot.
With both teams going winless through the opening fortnight of the competition, the victor in Sunday’s clash under the roof at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium will advance to the semi double-header The Trusts Arena in Auckland on September 23.
The team that comes up short will instead make their way to Pukekohe for a fifth-place playoff against Waikato Mana. Counties Manukau Stingrays, Akarana Falcons and Auckland Vulcans have already sealed their semi-final berths with a pair of victories in the first two rounds.
There’s a shade more pressure on the SENZ Bulls – given their inferior for-and-against, a drawn result this weekend would see the Whalers snatch the last place in the semis.
The campaign has not unfolded according to plan for Canterbury so far, following up a 44-0 loss to Counties Manukau at Ngā Puna Wai in Round 1 with another convincing home defeat, 56-8 to Auckland.
After a slew of missed opportunities against the Stingrays, the SENZ Bulls managed to breach the Vulcans’ defence once in each half – through Jimmy Wihongi’s superb solo effort and veteran Champ Betham’s powerhouse charge – but defensively the hosts were again exposed.
Tightening up without the ball will no doubt be priority number one for Canterbury’s coaching brains trust of Jed Lawrie and assistant Andrew Auimatagi as they prepare for a do-or-die road trip.
The Whalers, meanwhile, have enjoyed some patches of dominance in their two outings to date – spirited losses to the Falcons at home (42-22) and the Stingrays away (36-20).
Lawrie, Auimatagi and the SENZ Bulls need no reminding of the progress Otago has made in recent years. In the provinces’ first full-fledged competition match in 50 years during the 2021 South Island Championship, the Whalers carved out a historic 36-28 victory at Ngā Puna Wai in a sensational performance.
The derby rematch gets underway at 12pm on Sunday in Dunedin and is live on Sky Sports channel 54.
Meanwhile, the Trillo Metals Canterbury Women’s team are back in action after their Round 2 bye – heading to Wellington for a pivotal National Premiership showdown on Sunday.
Canterbury produced a highly encouraging display in their opening assignment a fortnight ago, pushing Counties Manukau all the way in a 24-18 loss at Ngā Puna Wai.
They clawed back from an 18-6 halftime deficit – scoring three tries to one after the break – and were pounding the Stingrays’ tryline in the dying seconds searching in vain for an equaliser. Sui Pauaraisa and Janaya Mata led the engine-room effort with typical authority, while teenage five-eighth Kyla Lynch-Brown capped an excellent Canterbury debut with a solo try.
Wellington Orcas will be equally eager to open their account this weekend, however, after losses to Akarana Falcons (26-6) and the Stingrays (24-14) in the first two rounds.
The rivals’ most recent encounters in the 2021 National Premiership (when Auckland teams were unable to compete due to COVID-19 restrictions) were certainly memorable: Wellington snatched a 20-all draw at Ngā Puna Wai with a last-minute try in the round-robin but Canterbury carved out a 20-8 victory in the final at the same venue two weeks later.
The Trillo Metals Canterbury Women’s team takes on Wellington at 2pm at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua this Sunday, with Sky Sports screening the match live on channel 54 following the SENZ Bulls-Whalers match.
Canterbury takes on Akarana at home on September 23 and Auckland away on September 30.