By PETER JESSUP
A frightening neck injury to Glenora wing Alan Lio overshadowed a weekend in which sin-binnings and late tries sparked big turnarounds in the fortunes of Bartercard Cup rugby league sides.
Lio was stretchered off after a tackle late in the game left him with no feeling down one side of his body. The numbness was said to be diminishing late last night and there was hope he had suffered just a pinched nerve. Auckland Hospital reported his condition as stable.
His injury was not the only bad news for the Bears. A try three minutes from time to Northcote second-rower Keneti Asiata turned a 20-22 deficit into a 26-22 win for the home team.
Earlier, the sin-binning of prop Fred Fereti, who had been called up from the club's Fox Memorial side, cost two Tigers' touchdowns.
The result puts the Bears under pressure for a playoff spot as the competition takes a Queen's Birthday weekend break. Coach Duane Mann was subdued afterwards, describing the game as a desperate affair played out by two desperate teams, his side not desperate enough.
Marist/Richmond also engineered a late winning run.
They were 16-26 down with 20 minutes to go at Porirua when the home side decided they had had enough.
Warrior wing Francis Meli ran in three tries and fullback Motu Tony also scored a hat-trick for a 42-26 outcome that indicates they will cause more trouble than their third-to-last placing would suggest when the second round starts.
Mt Albert scraped home over Manurewa 24-20 after letting a 16-4 halftime lead slip while the Eastern Tornadoes went from 10-all at the break to a 20-14 win that leaves all four of those sides locked in battle mid-table.
Skipper Dean Clark's injection from the bench was critical for competition leaders Otahuhu in their 34-14 visit to Hibiscus Coast. The sides were even going into the last quarter when Clark came on and ran the play to produce two quick tries that turned things, allowing Warrior Clinton Toopi to get his second.
Canterbury also put on a late points-scoring spree to put away the home side at Puketewhero Park. The sin-binning of fullback Doc Murray three-quarters of the way through was critical for the Chiefs. The Bulls took three late tries, wing Scott Woodgate getting a hat-trick.
So Otahuhu and Canterbury stretch their lead at the top of the ladder, fitness and depth the two winning factors for both.