All-Auckland final confirmed in National Premiership
(Matt Sauni scores one of three tries for Canterbury against Akarana Falcons. Credit: Photosport).
In another nail-biting finish to an NZRL National Premiership, Counties Manukau Stingrays and Akarana Falcons have emerged to contest next week’s grand final in Auckland.
But Canterbury Bulls will be left lamenting their missed opportunities, as they dipped out on points differential in a three-way countback for the top two spots.
The Stingarays confirmed their progress to the final with a 82-12 demolition of the Wellington Orcas in Porirua, a performance that ultimately lifted them to the top of the competition ladder and also consigned their hosts to next week’s promotion/relegation fixture.
Centre Paulos Latu, wing Alan Niulevu and prop Uila Aiolupo all recorded try-scoring hat-tricks, while half Raymond Talimalie scored 26 points, converting 11 of 15 tries.
Winless Wellington had no answer to the onslaught, lagging 32-6 behind at half-time, and must now defend their place in the 2017 premiership against Waikato.
But the real drama took place in Christchurch, where the Bulls needed to topple unbeaten Akarana by 19 points to advance to the title game.
Leading 16-4 at the break, they were on track to do so, but the Falcons battled back to square the second half and stay within the necessary margin.
While the two Auckland-based sides really cashed in on their superiority over cellar dwellers Wellington, the Bulls’ 34-16 win last week represented a missed opportunity for them.
Last year’s premiership also ended in a three-way tie, with Counties Manukau and Canterbury facing off in the final, and Wai-Coa-Bay missing out on points differential.
Meanwhile, Waikato secured the NZRL National Championship title and a chance for promotion to the top grade, when they overcame Southland Rams 52-6 in Invercargill.
Age-group international Morgan Harper had a hat-trick of tries, while fullback Aaron Jolley collected two and eight goals for 24 points.
NZRL NATIONAL PREMIERSHIP
Sunday, September 25
Counties Manukau Stingrays 82 (Paulos Latu 3, Alan Niulevu 3, Uila Aiolupo 3, George Edwards, Raymond Talimalie, King Vunyayawa, Sione Feao, Howard Brown & James Dowie tries; Talimalie 11 goals) Wellington Orcas 12 (Ulai Oti & Lake Manaia tries; Himiona Henare & Anthony Utanga goals)
Canterbury Bulls 38 (Matt Sauni 3, Nathan Saumalu, Vinnie Paul, Chris Bamford & Phil Nati tries; Tevin Arona 4 & Toi Sepuloni goals) Akarana Falcons 26 (Siva Otunuku, Cortex Taula, Zae Wallace, Taylor Daniels & Tevita Latu tries; Wallace 3 goals)
NZRL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Saturday, September 24
Waikato 52 (Morgan Harper 3, Aaron Jolley 2, Te Puhi Rudolph 2, Piripi Parangi & Eru Keepa tries; Jolley 8 goals) Southland 6 (Logo Peteru try; Jayleel Faamoe-Ioane goal)
Sunday, September 25
Canterbury Development 46 (Isaac Misky 4, Steve Maat 2, Phil Wahnig, Texas Toleafoa & Tauvale Tauvale tries; Angus Anderson 5 goals) Taranaki 16 (Charles Walters 2 & Jaron Schischka tries; Mark Davis 2 goals)