Rugby: Sports reign again in mudbath tussle

By Kelly Exelby

Hard-grafting Te Puke Sports flanker Luke Perrott has finally got his hands on the Baywide premier winner's medal that eluded him a year ago.

Perrott, a mainstay of the Te Puke pack for several seasons, took last year off after returning from overseas, with his ill-timed year's sabbatical just happening to coincide with the greatest day in the club's history as they kicked their way to a win over Whakarewarewa and their first premier title.

While it has not exactly been the proverbial pebble under the beach towel, Perrott said missing out last year had been the motivation he's needed to help Te Puke to a repeat effort.

Perrott was in his element at Tauranga Domain on Saturday, with the openside combining superbly with fellow loosies Michael Hinaki and Ryan Lambert as Te Puke - literally - won a wrestle in ankle deep mud against Rotoiti 12-3.

Te Puke first-five Nick McCashin kicked four from five attempts while Rotoiti kicker Whakataki Cunningham had a solitary success from two penalty attempts.

It was an atrocious day - think waterhogs wallowing on the banks of the Zambezi - with rain falling throughout, kickoff delayed until 3.20pm because of two extra-time games on the No1 field and mud stretching from 22 to 22.

Players were indistinguishable within 10 minutes of kickoff and consequently, the final didn't amount to much - hardly surprising given footing was treacherous and handling almost as bad.

None of it mattered to Perrott, who treasured his winner's medal in his mud-caked hands, reward for a stellar season that now has Te Puke being talked up as the authors of some sort of Baywide dynasty after going back-to-back.

"Today is right up there for me after missing out on the action last year," Perrott said. "I'd played a couple of semifinals and finals prior to heading overseas without obviously any success, and last year standing on the sideline at Greerton, I was thinking how much I would have loved to be out there with the boys.

"I was happy for them winning the club's first title but it was the spur for me to get in and give it another go.

"Last year we were underdogs but this year we came in as favourites, so to back up a title with another one shows the mark of a quality side."

Perrott and co were ultra-effective, particularly in the wet against a big Rotoiti pack. First-year Te Puke coach Craig Jeffries rammed home the need to get up in the opposition's faces and his young pack heeded the message.

"Defence is something we've worked on, particularly in the second round, and we had to take that step forward and meet Rotoiti on the advantage line," Perrott said.

"Rotoiti took Tauranga [in the semifinal] on up front and won and they've got a strong pack, particularly in conditions like today.

"Piglet (Jeffries) told us it'd be won through the forwards, which was fairly obvious to everyone as the ground chopped up, and we knew as long as we played our game no one could live with us."

Te Puke did cross the tryline once, but centre Ben Ward's effort late in the second half was thwarted by referee Dave Carston for a forward pass. It was one of Ward's final touches - he was sinbinned soon after by Carston for interfering with play with Rotoiti hot on attack.

Rotoiti finally found the missing piece to their puzzle with 10 minutes to go and were camped in the Te Puke 22, forcing the best out of the top qualifiers to keep them out. Carston pinged them eight times, creating a lopsided 14-6 penalty count for the match and Te Puke's defence stayed strong as Rotoiti sought tries to bridge the nine-point gap.

Skipper Jesse Acton lamented the late call to arms, saying nerves in their first final since the one-point loss in 2006 to Whakarewarewa might have played a part.

"We didn't pull our heads in and start taking the game to them until the second half, and it was too late then because we were forced to play catch-up and they weren't the right conditions for that.

"That last 10-15 minutes was how we should have played from the start. Te Puke were up for the situation and played the conditions well, with their experienced guys Rollo (Simon Rolleston), Cash (Nick McCashin) and Nutty (Jamie Nutbrown) all possessing good kicking games which pinned us back where we didn't want to be."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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