Waipū halfback Ashton Stowers sets up an attack from the base of the scrum in his team’s win over Old Boys Marist. Photo / Tania Whyte
Champagne rugby from two proud Northland clubs provided the spark the small crowd needed on a dank Saturday afternoon out in the boondocks of Kaihu and just across the road from the local tavern.
In the end, hosts the Western Sharks managed to hold on for a hard-earned 32-25 win over Kamo in the Tyrepower Northland Premier Club rugby competition under challenging conditions.
Ball handling, territory and the battle up front were always going to shape the final outcome and although both sides had parity in pretty much all facets of play, the Sharks went for the jugular after forcing a turnover in midfield on the stroke of fulltime.
Centre Manasa Delana bolted 50 metres down the left wing to score the winning try just as the rain stopped. On an afternoon when heavy underfoot conditions and the crosswind made kicking and lineout throws difficult, there were few stoppages – which was a testament to both sides’ tenacity on attack and defence.
The win has the Sharks nipping at the heels of leaders Hora Hora by one point on the ladder, while Kamo are sitting in fourth position behind Mid Northern.
All four teams have won six and lost two games and are likely to qualify for the top four.
The game on Saturday got off to a horror start for Kamo, who conceded two tries inside the first five minutes. Zak Wickman handed the Sharks the bait they needed when he fumbled the kickoff inside the Kamo 22.
Wing Josiah Povey dotted down in the corner in just the second minute. The Sharks followed it up with their second minutes later when first five-eighths Jack Bradley fielded an inside pass from Jonetani Mateiwai during a counterattack on the left flank.
Kamo re-grouped, shook up their defence and started running more with the ball in hand, relying on the magic of Blake Hohaia and No 10 Nikau Graham to puncture holes in the Sharks’ defence.
It nearly paid dividends for hooker and skipper Mason Hohaia off a rolling maul but referee Llew Smart ruled the ball was held up on the tryline.
Kamo ramped up the pressure and were rewarded shortly afterwards when centre Patrick Elia spun around multiple tacklers and scored under the posts.
For a period, the Sharks struggled with territory and possession and piled more pressure on themselves by kicking the ball away and giving Kamo the opportunity to attack.
Playing in favour of the wind, the visitors opted for territory, straightened their attack and found themselves ahead on the scoreboard. The Sharks boasted a big forward pack in man-mountain Tevita Faukafa and hard-running Fijian Inoke Tavutu, who provided the heavy artillery up front but the Kamo defence didn’t budge for the most part.
The Sharks were next to score. Lock Kaufononga Tausinga won a lineout five metres from the Kamo tryline and set up a drive. Tavutu peeled off the back of the maul and after being patient with the ball, captain Matt McCahon emerged from a pile of bodies on the tryline.
With the scores locked at 17-17 at the break, the second spell was all about adjusting to the conditions and nailing the opportunities.
Neither side had the upper hand which made for an enthralling contest. Kamo halfback Donald Boyd gifted the Sharks a try after he fumbled his clearance kick from inside his 22.
The game slowed down a bit in the third quarter as the wet and windy conditions started to take their toll.
Mason Hohaia couldn’t believe his luck when he scooped the ball from a ruck and ran straight through the gap to score in front of the posts.
“As a team, we played well in patches… just that last bit of execution wasn’t there in situations. They have big boys and ball carries and they ran hard and direct,” Hohaia said.
He said it would have been easy for other teams to drop their head and let the game run away after being down by two tries so early in the game but Kamo felt the game was in their control.
Sharks’ skipper McCahon said his side were lucky to come out on top.
“We knew with the wind playing in, it was going to be tit-for-tat and that’s what it was, and we were lucky to come out on top,” McCahon said.
“We didn’t think we’d be up or even a draw at halftime playing against the wind but we weathered the storm and came back in the second half and used that wind.
“The whole season, we’ve played the full 80 minutes and that’s what we did and we got that try that sealed it for us.”
His side take on Waipū while Kamo host Wellsford this weekend.
In the other Premier games played last weekend, Waipū got their first win in the competition, beating Old Boys Marist 29-16 in Whangārei, Wellsford won at home 29-15 over Kerikeri, Mid Northern thrashed neighbours Hikurangi 54-12 and leaders Hora Hora continued their winning form by edging Ngāti Hine Moerewa 27-22.
Division One results: Wellsford 32-Kerikeri 3, Sharks 45-Kamo 7, Otamatea 48-OBM 0, Mid Northern 51-Hikurangi 7, Hora Hora 34-Moerewa 14.