Linwood Keas have won back-to-back grand finals for the first time in the club’s history, powering to a 34-20 triumph in the 2017 Canterbury Rugby League men’s premier decider over archrivals Hornby Panthers at Linfield Park.
The Panthers surged to a 16-4 advantage after a dominant opening 20 minutes, but their game fell away through unforced errors and the Keas rallied to lead by eight at the break following a frenetic five-minute period before halftime.
The Keas got off to a dream start, marching upfield on their first set of six before hooker Alani Kakoi sliced through for an early opener.
But the Panthers’ reply was swift, big winger Chris Eric latching onto a Sean Spooner grubber to level up and Craig Smith slotting the conversion from out wide for a 6-4 lead.
Hornby’s momentum continued when stand-in No.9 Tyrone Arona caught the Linwood defence napping to score, before second-rower Will Tafua charged through a hole on the fringes to extend the advantage to 12 points.
But a mistake from Corey Lawrie provided the Keas with a prime attacking opportunity, which they took with both hands as fullback Erwin Sauni skipped through disorganised Panthers defence to dot down.
The decider settled into a set-for-set pattern as defence belatedly took over, until an in-goal error by Panthers fullback Dene Grace was pounced upon by Keas lock Mike Nicholls-Cane, levelling the scores.
Hornby looked certain to reclaim the lead a few minutes before the break when Charlie Charlie set off on a long intercept run, but retiring Linwood co-captain Aga Fiso produced a heroic chase to ankle-tap the flying winger.
The Keas capitalised on Fiso’s massive play when Joseph Purcell-Mika crashed over out wide, while Danny Latu scored on the halftime hooter for a 24-16 scoreline.
The defending champs came out firing in the second stanza, extending their advantage to 12 points through Will Yeow.
The Panthers had ample possession to work their way back into the contest, but the Keas’ line-speed and resolute defence frustrated their comeback efforts.
Rampaging prop Jiordan Fidow-Kele effectively put the grand final out of reach at 34-16 when he barged over next to the posts with 15 minutes to go.
Tauvale Tauvale raced over for a consolation try in the dying minutes, but the Panthers’ disappointment – particularly from the likes of veteran Lawrie, who was pitched into the halfback role with James Baxendale unavailable – post-match was palpable after a second straight grand final defeat at the hands of the Keas.
For Fiso, it was a dream way to go out before hanging up the boots, while Linwood’s front-row workhorse Alex Todd was a deserving winner of the Mel Cooke Medal for man of the match, producing a typically inspirational display up front.
Linwood Keas 34 (Alani Kakoi, Erwin Sauni, Mike Nicholls-Cane, Joseph Purcell-Mika, Danny Latu, Will Yeow, Jiordan Fidow-Kele tries; Toi Sepuloni 2, Purcell-Mika goals) defeated Hornby Panthers 20 (Chris Eric, Tyrone Arona, Willie Tafua, Tauvale Tauvale tries; Craig Smith 2 goals) at Linfield Park, Sunday, August 13.
(Story and photo courtesy of canterburyrugbyleague.co.nz).