League: Teams vie for finals spots

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BACK FOR MORE: Vern Wilson was a key component in the Hokianga Pioneers' 28-22 win over defending champions, the Hikurangi Stags, at Okaihau late last month. The two teams renew their rivalry when they play in the second semifinal at Toll Stadium tomorrow.PHOTO/FILE
BACK FOR MORE: Vern Wilson was a key component in the Hokianga Pioneers' 28-22 win over defending champions, the Hikurangi Stags, at Okaihau late last month. The two teams renew their rivalry when they play in the second semifinal at Toll Stadium tomorrow.PHOTO/FILE

Tomorrow's Rugby League Northland major semifinal at Toll Stadium is not just a dress rehearsal for everyone involved. For two teams it will be the last time they put their club colours on and represent their club in 2014.

Many players can play their entire career without ever winning a championship or playing in a Grand Final.

Game 1
Hikurangi Stags v Hokianga Pioneers, 1pm

The Stags qualified for the major semifinals by finishing second in the premiership and as a result had the first week off in finals football.

The Stags are in contention to win their fourth Premiership in a row and the week off will give player/coach Joe Rau an extra chance of making the field after he dislocated his shoulder four weeks ago. He stands a 30 per cent chance of playing and if he does play it will probably see him working solely as a ball distributor, which could provide the Pioneers an obvious target.

Should Rau not play they have the experienced Moses Cooper and Te Tuhi Tipene to take control in the halves. The key for the Stags will be if they have the go forward to match the big Pioneers pack - the Stags strength lies in their disciplined game plan which sees them play expansive football feeding their youthful speed out wide in the form of Joachim and Zabdiel Edmonds and Wayne Iripa.

The Pioneers reached the major semis by finishing third in the Premiership and defeating the Northern Wairoa Bulls 40 - 20 in week one of the playoffs. The key to their success was Captain Richard Koroi playing at stand off. Koroi who is built more like a second rower was devastating against the Bulls. His combination with Wiremu Snowden-Te Iringa at centre was lethal last week with Wiremu scoring a hat trick of tries.

This will be the third year in a row that the Pioneers have reached this stage of the competition and could be the year that they go the extra step and make the final, however they will need to bring their A game.

Game 2
Takahiwai Warriors v Otangarei Knights, 3pm

The Warriors have been the form team of 2014 winning the minor premiership by five points and with a massive 524 point differential it would be an understatement to say that they dominated the competition.

The biggest challenge preventing the Warriors from winning their first premiership since 2008 will be complacency. However they have two experienced coaches in Shane Hool and Mark Freeman who will ensure they will be prepared for the Knights.

The Warriors play on the back of captain Edward Wilson and loose forward Adam Donaldson with support from a solid pack, little general Joe Freeman at half back, dynamic cousins Rikki and Charles Tarau and fullback Hori Tuhoro.

The Knights have been 2014's big improvers having progressed from 2013 where they got knocked out by the Pioneers in the minor semis. The Knights progress from the minor semis after winning a last minute thriller against the Portland Panthers 24-16.

Captain Herewini Edmonds is their key play maker and when he fires the team follows. They have an ability to launch an attack from anywhere on the paddock with pace and strength out wide. Zion Rota at Fullback is freakishly strong, while Jordan Katene provides able back up to Edmonds in the halves.

The Knights will miss instrumental hooker Linn Hunapo who was stretchered off in last weeks semi final. The pleasing news is that Hunapo will make a full recovery. In previous encounters the Warriors won 40 -16 in Rd 1 and 32-20 in Rd 10. However the Knights should not be underestimated.

- Northern Advocate

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