Clubs chase X-factor for playoffs

By Kelly Exelby

Te Puke Sports have it and don't want to give it up, while Mount Maunganui Sports had it and desperately want it back with the playoffs looming.
And Tauranga Sports? Don't even try analysing where their season is heading after the reigning Baywide premier champions slumped to a shock 5-3 defeat to Te Puna, a week after getting pantsed by the Mount.
"It" is momentum, that prized sporting commodity, and everyone wants some in the run into the playoffs.
Te Puke Sports have got traction, with Saturday's clinical 21-10 dismantling of Mt Maunganui at Blake Park - more lopsided than the 11-point differential suggests - bumping them to equal second in the standings and giving them significant traction in the countdown to the semifinals.
Te Puke skipper Ryan Lambert, part of a hard-working loose forward trio alongside Roger Birkin and Ricky Green who ruled the breakdown, said he could feel the season's momentum starting to shift in their favour.
"About this time last year we fell away and lost a couple but today's six in a row for us. We're up with Mount in second and it's obvious to anyone involved with the club that things are really starting to build," Lambert says.
"We haven't done anything yet but we're getting numbers to training and the players are starting to get excited about the back end of the season, which is great after we started the season so bad."
Te Puke might boast a pygmy pack but they play with ticker and took control from the outset at Blake Park, never letting the Mount pack settle into their work and grabbing an early 6-0 lead through the unerring right boot of first-five Simon Rolleston before the opening try to Gideon Uelese, exploiting a numerical advantage in the left-hand corner.

Te Puke jumped to a 16-0 lead when Uelese's opposite, Andrew Tuise, went over before they weathered a Mount storm, surviving a brutal and sustained assault on their tryline with gutsy defence that would ultimately prove to be the gamebreaker.
With a decent breeze at their backs in the second half it wasn't beyond Mount to claw their way back, especially with Te Puke's lineout starting to wobble and midfielders Sam Jurisich and Malakai Kisini finding the odd hole. First-five Matt Golding got their first points with a 52nd-minute penalty but order was restored five minutes later when, on the back of good lead-in from the forwards, Rolleston ambled through a hole before looping a big pass out to Tuise on the right wing.
Mount lock Sam Mayes burrowed over with time almost up for a late consolation but a perplexed Mount skipper Chris Elvin described his side's effort as "pretty much rock bottom" after the high of beating Tauranga Sports the previous week.
"That was a big time comedown and we just didn't turn up or fire a shot. We didn't train well all week, and the potential was there to really build on last week's win but instead we were complacent.
"We've got a couple of weeks to rectify it and get it back."
Lambert highlighted his side's tough-nut defence just before halftime and predicted the two sides were on course to meet in the semifinals.
"We would have loved a (four-try) bonus point today to take us to outright second but we had to D-up before even thinking about attacking. When they couldn't put a try on the board before halftime we could see they were starting to look at each other and look around for someone to spark them. That spoke volumes about what we're about."
Te Puna took a solid step to avoiding relegation and put another dent in Tauranga Sports' armoury when they scraped their way to a 5-3 at Maramatanga Park.
In an old-fashioned wrestle, former Steamers halfback Chad Tuoro bagged the only try of the game after 10 minutes as Te Puna expertly used the wind at their backs to kick for territory.
Nick Evemy's second-half penalty was Tauranga's only points as Te Puna defended their tryline aggressively.
Whakarewarewa all but sealed the fourth playoff spot with a 24-7 win over Rangataua, with first-five and captain Kelly Haimona notching a try and kicking two conversions although they led by just 7-0 at halftime.
Haimona said the side was determined to up the intensity in the second half. "Everyone knew what we were lacking in the first half was a bit of heart and, with a couple of key substitutions coming on, it gave us a bit more mongrel back to the boys," he said.
Whaka scored three times after the break to Rangataua's one try.
"We've sort of been down on our luck for the last month or so but now we're getting ourselves back together."
Whakatane Marist, who are locked in a race with Te Puna to avoid relegation, lost some ground to the Western Bay side with a 20-all draw with Waikite, while Opotiki won a nailbiter against Rotoiti 19-17.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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