League: Otangarei Knights taste victory (+video)

By Peter Thorley

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The victorious Otangarei Knights celebrate with the RLN trophy.
The victorious Otangarei Knights celebrate with the RLN trophy.

Herewini Edmonds nailed a tough kick under extreme pressure to seal an incredible Otangarei Knights comeback over the reigning champions Hikurangi in the Rugby League Northland Multikai Premiership Grand Final.

The Knights trailed 26-12 well into the final quarter but fought back to win the match 28-26 with Edmonds' kick saving his side from an extra time showdown.

A well executed chip and chase try by Cameron Pene in the final quarter had increased Hikurangi's lead to 14 points, prompting a large contingent of neutrals and several Otangarei fans to give up on their team and make for the exits of Toll Stadium on Saturday.

At that stage many teams would have bowed to the inevitable - particularly against the Stags, who were chasing their fourth successive premiership - but not the Knights.

They gave everything they had and their persistence paid off with tries to Dane Tito and Zion Rota balancing the match on a knife's edge with Hikurangi hanging on to a 26-22 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.

The crowd of around 2000 were then treated to a dramatic finale as Otangarei tried to find the winner but they were held out again and again by some determined defence from the Stags.

Pene was then sin binned - one of four such offenders in the final - for continuing a tackle for too long and with two minutes on the clock - time for one final set - Otangarei finally found themselves with an overlap to exploit on their right flank.


Action from the game here:

Video

The ball went through the hands to lock Sua Sosopo, who made the decision to straighten up the attack and successfully made his run for the line to send his teammates and the Otangarei faithful into wild celebrations.

GOT IT DONE: Herewini Edmonds nailed the clinching conversion.
GOT IT DONE: Herewini Edmonds nailed the clinching conversion.

Sosopo's bravery made Edmonds' task easier but the Otangarei skipper still had a difficult kick, under pressure some 10m in from the touchline.

The reaction to the narrow victory was pure emotion with players sprinting over to congratulate the kicker and supporters flowing onto the pitch, hooting with excitement.

Player-coach Jackson Katene said the win showed just how determined his side were.

"Most of them are first time finalists so we expected some finals jitters and Hikurangi got ahead of us but it was an outstanding game and it went down to the final minute.

"The Stags showed why they are three times champions, they came here with a plan and a purpose and they executed it well and dogged defence nearly got them home but unfortunately for them we played with a lot more urgency in the final 20 and it went our way in the end," he said.

The stunned match winner said the team had paid back all the people who had believed in them.

"To see a scoreboard like that is mind blowing, I have to thank all the people who have come on board with us this year and supported us through some tough times when we didn't have any sponsors and now it has all fallen into place," Edmonds said.

Defeated player-coach Joe Rau said that it was a bitter disappointment to lose when they almost had a fourth successive title in the bag.

"We were almost there, close but not close enough. We let our guard down and they got a bit of momentum and everything went their way but hey ... look how happy they are, it's all good," he said.

The first half was an edgy affair with both sides committing errors under pressure, including one Hikurangi player mistaking the touch judge for one of his teammates, which provided some light relief for the crowd. Moses Cooper capitalised on a defensive error to open the scoring for Hikurangi in the 18th minute. The try stung Otangarei with Edmonds hitting back with a double dummy move that saw him stroll untouched under the posts to take the lead 6-4.

The Knights then gained a numerical advantage with the first of the sin binnings but it was Hikurangi who took a 10-point buffer into the half-time break with two quick tries to Keiron Wihongi-Henare and Eric Abraham.

Otangarei were the first to score in the second spell, somewhat controversially.

They were awarded a penalty try by referee Taneora Kaiwai when John-Daniel Kelly took out Edmonds after he chased his grubber into the in-goal.

The converted try took the score to 16-12 then Hikurangi centre Joachim Edmonds scored to push the score out to 20-12 before Pene scored and somehow the Knights ignited their implausible comeback.

In the two other grand finals at Toll on Saturday, Muriwhenua took out the U16 final, beating Otaua Valleys 32-6, while Otaika Eagles edged Marist Brothers 40-32 in an exciting U18 battle.

- Northern Advocate

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