Rugby: Bridge Pa step up to semifinals

By Doug Laing

A young first-time Premier side from Bridge Pa looms as the longshot prospect in this weekend's Rugby League Hawke's Bay semifinals after a 40-28 thrashing of Maraenui Phoenix on Saturday.

The victory at Kirkpatrick Park, Hastings, in the last round of the eight-team minor premiership enabled Bridge Pa to qualify for the playoffs at the expense of Tech Seals, who bombed badly when beaten 38-20 in Napier by another first-time premier side, Napier Pirate Panthers.

Phoenix survived the cut despite the loss, their third, including a default.

In other games, both in Hastings, Tamatea remained warm favourites to retain the title with a 58-4 win over tailenders Omahu Huia 58-4, and Outkast Sports stayed on course for a second final in their club's two years of Premier football, beating Flaxmere Falcons 64-28.

But the celebrations were all with Bridge Pa, who appeared out of the running after losing their opening three games.

But a loss by just eight points in the third-round match against Tamatea, which has now won 16 in a row since losing a 2010 semifinal, gave the team hope, and it won the remaining four matches to book a semifinal rematch against Tamatea at Bill Mathewson Park on Saturday.

Jaamin Pere, who has been a driving force in establishing the club and scored three tries playing at halfback on Saturday, said it's been all about "family and community" as the club has quickly grown from being a challenge to get a single league team up and running.

The club entered teams in five league grades, one of which it hopes will be in the Reserve grade semifinals, but also has touch and netball teams.

While former dual Hawke's Bay rugby and rugby league representative Ray Karauria has brought a unique level of experience to the side, having played for numerous clubs in both codes, the team will go into next weekend's game with almost no other experience of Premier playoffs, likely to be a telling point against business-end regulars Tamatea.

Two of the Bridge Pa regulars are teenagers still at Hastings Boys High School, including talented speedster Danya Tulou.

Tamatea were never going to be seriously challenged by Omahu, whose disappointing season ended with the conceding of 10 tries, three apiece to regular Tamatea scorers Hayzley Robson and Mika Mika. Robson missed just one of 10 goal attempts, finishing with 30 points for the game.

Although conceding five tries to the Falcons, Outkast still ended the preliminaries with the best defensive record, which will stand them in good stead for a semifinal against Phoenix, who defaulted the teams' first-round fixture.

Veteran coach Waka Leonard will be wondering about how far the game in Hawke's Bay has come after watching his Seals succumb to a Panthers side which fulfilled its earlier promise, with a 7-tries-to-4 win. Down 16-0 soon after halftime, Seals scored three tries in six minutes to reach 16-all, then conceded three in seven minutes.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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