Rugby: Manawatu edge improved Northland

By Niall Anderson

Manawatu 34 Northland 27
Jason Emery scored the winner for Manawatu. Photo / Photosport
Jason Emery scored the winner for Manawatu. Photo / Photosport

It was rusty rather than resounding, but Manawatu have opened their Mitre 10 Cup campaign with a 34-27 victory over Northland at Toll Stadium.

Relegated from the Premiership last year, Manawatu were heavy favourites to start their season on a high note, but the Turbos were pushed to the brink by an improved Northland outfit.

Northland suffered through one of the worst seasons in NPC history last year, losing all 10 games by an average margin of 27 points as they picked up just a solitary bonus point.

The signs were more promising in 2016's opener, with a promising attacking performance giving hope of a far more competitive season in their second campaign under coach Richie Harris.

That wasn't the case in the opening moments however, as Manawatu looked to be in for a night peppered with line breaks and room to run as they roared out of the gates. Impressive midfielder Ngani Laumape was first to cross, before Heiden Bedwell-Curtis showed remarkable skills to fake an offload, spin and cruise in uncontested to increase their buffer.

Against Northland teams of old, a 17-0 lead would seem insurmountable, but with Manawatu reduced to 14 men, the Taniwha mounted a comeback.

Led by the multi-faceted talents of Kara Pryor, Northland made the most of their attacking advantage with a stunning 80 metre effort finished by Warren Dunn, while loose forward Mike Faleafa notched a first-half double as Northland took a two point halftime buffer.

Northland hadn't produced a comeback victory from a deficit of 15 points in over a decade, and a Jack Ram try soon after the break had hopes high of a remarkable victory.

However, the calming presence of Otere Black helped guide Manawatu back into the contest. A cross-kick to Ambrose Curtis produced a quality try, before Black's sideline conversion tied the game.

Fellow reserve Jamie Booth also provided a spark, and it was his break which eventually saw Jason Emery go over out wide to seal a nervous victory.

Manawatu 34 (Ngani Laumape, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Ambrose Curtis, Jason Emery tries; Sam Malcolm 2 con, 2 pen, Otere Black 2 con)
Northland 27 (Mike Faleafa 2, Warren Dunn, Jack Ram tries; Peter Breen 2 con, pen)
Halftime: 17-19

- NZ Herald

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