League: Pikiao grand wait over

By Greg Taipari

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Pikiao Warriors celebrate their win over Taupo Phoenix at Puketawhero Park. Photo / Stephen Parker
Pikiao Warriors celebrate their win over Taupo Phoenix at Puketawhero Park. Photo / Stephen Parker

A nine-year grand final appearance drought has come to an end for Pikiao after a narrow 22-18 win over Taupo Phoenix in the Bay of Plenty district league semifinal.

A cold and windy Puketawhero Park was the venue for one of the toughest matches of the season with Pikiao taking on Taupo for the right to face Tokoroa's Pacific Sharks in next week's grand final.

It was evident in the celebrations after the final whistle blew, the win meant a lot to Pikiao.

Coach Dough Unuwai said he was pleased for his team.

"What a game, nine years and the boys have finally got the opportunity to go to the finals and I hope they are not going to be the bridesmaids to Pacific again, like they have been for the last few years."

Taupo were the first to score when halfback Freedom Carson dived over from dummy half. The halfback converted his own try to take his side out to a 6-0 lead after just 5 minutes. It took Pikiao 10 minutes to reply due to the lack of penetration created by their forwards on attack.

Taupo prop John Love-Henry and Jason Kapua out-muscled Pikiao on the defensive line.

It took some individual brilliance from Pikiao halfback Te Kaiotea Tahuriorangi to break past the Taupo wall with a clever kick and regather to score under the posts. Connor Hohepa converted the try.

Pikiao were in again, this time from a Tahuriorangi kick five minutes later, as his nephew Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi regathered to score for Hohepa to convert.

At the 25 minute mark Hohepa went over to score a well worked team try in the corner only to miss the conversion.

It looked like Taupo might be in for a bit of a hiding but as has been the norm with Pikiao, the side took their foot off the pedal and Taupo had two quick tries to Josiah Bell and John Koko. Both tries weren't converted and Taupo went into the break trailing 16-14.

The second half was like a heavyweight boxing match - both sides slugging it out. For the first 20 minutes Pikiao had Taupo up against the ropes pounding the visitors but unable to land a killer blow.

In fact it was Taupo in the 70th minute, who scored first, when Willie Issacs crashed over. Despite scoring next to the post Carson was unable to convert the try.

With their tails up, Taupo began to have belief in themselves and looked to be gaining momentum.

The turning point came from Pikiao prop Rocky Ahuriri. Taupo took a penalty tap on Pikiao's 40m line, Love-Henry charged the ball up and in came Ahuriri like a scud missile.

The clash was colossal and both players lay prone momentarily.

Love-Henry stood up and lashed out with his foot, gifting Pikiao a penalty.

From there Pikiao lifted and the end result was a try to Percy King which Hohepa converted.

Unuwai said his side would need to lift their game for their rematch with Pacific on Saturday.

In the reserve grade semifinal clash, Pikiao came back from a 12 point deficit to beat Mangakino 36-28. Pikiao will take on Central in their grand final clash at Puketawhero Park.

Scorers: Pikiao 22 (Te Kaiotea Tahuriorangi, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, C Hohepa, P King tries; C Hohepa 3 cons) Taupo 18 (F Carson, J Bell, J Koko, W Issacs tries; F Carson 1 con) Halftime: 16-14.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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