League: Knights down reigning champions

By Cameron Leslie

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Bryce Rauahi was Otangarei's player of the day.
Bryce Rauahi was Otangarei's player of the day.

Structure was the key to the Otangarei Knights causing one of the biggest upsets in recent years, beating the defending champions 40-26.

The Knights at home are always tough customers but the Hikurangi Stags, who are always a polished unit in the Rugby League Northland MultiKai Cooker Premiership, had no answer for to the Knights.

While no one seemed to know when the Knights last beat the Stags, Knights coach Iwi Hauraki praised his side who have proven to be quick learners after looking off the pace only a few weeks ago.

"We're really starting to see some returns, everything is just clicking for us at the moment," Hauraki said of Saturday's win. "Structure is the key, if everyone knows their role you know where they will be on the field."

A former NRL and Taniwha player himself, Hauraki added that his side's defence had also improved greatly since the competition kicked off last month.

"At the start of the round we struggled a bit [with defence] but since we got into it we've held out a few teams.

"It is satisfying. When we trained on Friday night, we put it together and I thought it was a professional team."

Even though celebrating the win, Hauraki said it was still early in the competition and there was still more to work on.

"It's only the first round, there's a lot of teams that come back, we've just got to keep it together if we want to be there at the end."

Hauraki noted Bryce Rauahi as his side's player but said Jordan Holtz also stepped up.

Gracious in defeat, Stags coach Joe Rau said the Knights definitely deserved the win.

"[Otangarei] played well and we probably didn't play our best game, but all in all they're well deserved winners on the day," he said. "It's all good from our side, a lot of work to be done sometimes a loss is ok when it shows things to work on and you go back and do it.

"With [the Knights] in Otangarei they're always hard to beat, they did come at us hard and we matched them at times but just a couple of little things we need to work on."

Rau has said right from the start this year was going to be one for rebuilding, the Stags having several young up-and-coming players in their ranks. However, he felt the youngsters had come along nicely, crediting the pathway in place in Rugby League Northland with the Adam Blair XIII and Northern Swords age group teams.

"Because of their youth it has definitely added a lot, it's happening in some other teams too and we'll be looking to nurture them.

"They have been saying to me they thought it was going to harder, but I say 'mate we're just big and ugly, plus they're ready for the step up we wouldn't have them if they weren't'."

Players of the day for Hikurangi were second rowers Eric Abraham, Nathan Ashby and fullback Wayne Iripa.

Another upset in the MultiKai Cooker Premiership saw Hokianga win 30-16, while Muriwhenua beat Kerikeri 24-16.

Takahiwai and Northern Wairoa also came out on top, winning 88-8 and 38-24 over Moerewa and Hora Hora respectively.

- Northern Advocate

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