League: Bay take glory in under 14s

By Greg Taipari

A quartet of tries from Bay of Plenty centre Ezekiel Cooper helped secure his side's 44-12 win over Coastline and the under-14 trophy at this year's league age-group tournament.

The 14-year-old from Tokoroa was a standout for his side in the three-match round robin tournament between Bay of Plenty, Coastline, Waikato and Hauraki at Puketawhero Park at the weekend.

Cooper, normally a second-rower, was asked by his coach, Paul Nahu, to move out into the centres after a number of injuries.

The youngster, cousin to Aussie first-five Quade Cooper, showed the pace and ball-handling skills have been passed down from the Wallaby to the next generation.

A Year 10 student at Tokoroa High School, Cooper showed the ability to beat his opponent with relative ease. Cooper's side overcame a slow start to their match against Coastline, the visitors scoring with only two minutes on the clock.

Bay of Plenty, the favourites going into the match after beating Hauraki 60-10 and Waikato 28-16, struggled to move up on defence - giving Coastline forwards Rowdy Walker and Bobby Toheriri-Vincent too much room to move and giving the visitors easy go-forward.

Toheriri-Vincent was rewarded for his efforts with his side's first try.

Although Bay of Plenty would hit back 10 minutes later to winger Troy Winters, Coastline would grab their last try to Matty Godfrey. Lucky Walker would convert both tries to put his side ahead 12-4 with only 14 minutes on the clock. However, Bay of Plenty would eventually hit back with two tries to Josiah Vaevae and Te Ua Keepa with Winters converting a try to sneak past Coastline at the halftime break 14-12.

It was all one-way traffic after the break thanks to prop Zarius Easthorpe-Stevens. The visitors struggled to cope with the youngster, who off-loaded like a pro. His efforts, along with the rest of the forwards, helped set up Cooper's four tries as well as Keepa's second. Winters would only convert three of the six tries scored in the second half to take his side to a 44-12 win over Coastline.

Although Cooper was pleased to score four tries he said it came from the team working together.

"I think it was a good team effort, the boys were just putting their heads down and running hard as."

Despite the success of moving to centre, Cooper wasn't sure it would be permanent.

"I don't know, I'm not too sure ... It was good working off the boys and just getting up there and supporting them."

The Bay of Plenty coach said he was impressed with how the team coped with the intensity of playing three matches in one day.

"It was a little bit of a war of attrition. We picked up a lot of injuries throughout the day but we picked a good squad, guys that could cover a lot of positions and that's what ended up being the case," Nahu said.

"We had to move guys around and fill in, but they did a good job and I think they got stronger as the day went on."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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