Kamo lock Todd Scotland makes a break down the midfield channel but couldn’t help his side topple Mid Northern in the Premier rugby final on Saturday. Photo / Tania Whyte
Semenoff Stadium turned into a sea of red as the kings of Northland club rugby proved for the second year running that they could slug it out with the best and win, no matter the venue.
Mid Northern’s Premier side upped the ante in the second half for a well-deserved 26-12 victory over Kamo to lock away the trophy for another year. Mid Northern also won Division 1, beating the Western Sharks 34-24 and laying the marker for their premier side on an overcast but pleasant afternoon of running rugby on Saturday.
The men from Hukerenui lived up to their favourites tag and there wasn’t the rub of the green or a controversial refereeing call that separated both sides at the end of the Premier final in front of a packed grandstand.
“We had a rocky start to the season, we didn’t get up, and lost a few games but to claw our way back and get the job done was massive,” Mid Northern skipper Allan Craig reacted after the final hooter. “These guys beat us in the round robin so we knew it would be a challenge but we also knew it was within us.
“We had to play in the right parts of the field. We backed ourselves, we knew we were a good team, we were better than them.”
A core bunch of players had been together for the past three or four years, he said, which meant the side was getting stronger every year. To also have Super Rugby Pacific players Chris Apoua and Rob Rush running out for the team had been a massive boost.
A dejected Kamo captain Mason Hohaia said that, despite the loss, he was immensely proud of his team despite a season in which they didn’t have a coach at one stage.
“Full credit to Mid Northern… a strong pack, they pressured us at lineout time. We started to get something going at the end but it was too little, too late,” Hohaia said.
“The penalty count was a bit shocking and didn’t go our way, and that’s a credit to them pressuring us. We had an attacking game but just couldn’t get a flow.”
Hohaia said a quick try by Mid Northern after halftime was a sucker punch.
Mid Northern got off the blocks quicker through prop Apoua, who dived over in just the fourth minute after a lineout. Jordan Olsen fielded a Kamo overthrow inside the Mid Northern half before fullback Brodie Rush’s weaving run down the left flank took play inside the Kamo 22.
Mid Northern adopted a similar strategy in the second half, scoring early to get the scoreboard ticking along. A chip ahead caught the Kamo defence napping and Craig burrowed his way over the line in the opening minute.
Kamo began hitting their straps in the third quarter but couldn’t build enough pressure to mount a decent comeback. Hohaia, big brother Blake Hohaia, first five Graham Nikau and fullback Pisi Leilua tried all the tricks to prise open the Mid Northern defence but with little success.
The speed of the Mid Northern recycle at the breakdown should have seen their backs cut Kamo to pieces and bully their way through, but the pace of the game meant mistakes were inevitable.
Apoua, the Northland Taniwha and Moana Pasifika prop, was one angry man and seemed to hate any legs that moved. He took it as a personal affront if someone didn’t have a go at him.
Apoua carried the ball hard and didn’t see Kamo defenders hanging off him as a good reason to stop running.
He turned into a wrecking ball, so much so that a sudden rush of blood to the head saw him join an off-the-ball fracas just before halftime that prompted a warning from referee Nathan Chestnut.
All credit to Kamo, given the way they scrambled in defence for the most part and even managed to dot down through first five Nikau Graham, who latched on to a clever grubber kick on the inside by wing Jayden Leaupepe in the first spell.
They showed grit and determination to foil several Mid Northern attacks from close range in the opening stanza and were not daunted by the depth the opposition had across the park.
Heading into halftime with the score 13-5 in favour of Mid Northern, Kamo had to show more depth in their attack and cut out unforced errors.
Since up to 60 per cent of the game is unstructured, teams that are slow to take advantage of opportunities when they arise often find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Especially against sides like Mid Northern, who are masters at making fools of sides that show up half-cocked.
Kamo were not half-cocked but failed to replicate in the second half what they did before the break. Nikau’s kick for touch failed to find a mark that could have set up an ideal platform for a rolling maul, then Leilua handed Mid Northern a throw-in after fumbling a high kick midway in the Kamo half.
Mid Northern were far from perfect but they didn’t appear to have too much trouble in getting the job done. The way they used the ball made all the difference in the end.
The focus now shifts to the Bunnings Warehouse NPC, which starts in two weeks. Northland host Canterbury at Semenoff Stadium on August 5 and Taranaki four days later.