Before the 2019 Bay of Plenty Rugby League Premier season kicked off, the Taupō Phoenix made a pact to do their best, both individually and as a team, to achieve their goals. They've made the final once before, three years ago, but finished runners-up to the Pacific Sharks. They stayed true to their pact this season and marched into the Premier grand final. Standing in their way at Puketawhero Park in Rotorua was a familiar foe, the Pacific Sharks, who had also successfully rebuilt this year and earned their spot in the decider. Sports reporter David Beck was there.
After leading 26-6 at halftime, the Taupō Phoenix have held off a second-half comeback by the Pacific Sharks to win the Bay of Plenty Rugby League Premier final 32-24.
Supporters of both clubs were out in force at Puketawhero Park in Rotorua on Saturday and as the fulltime hooter sounded it was the Taupō fans who broke into raucous celebration.
Taupō coach Henare Pitiroi, who was visibly emotional after the game, said words could not describe what he was feeling.
"It's something we have wanted for a very, very long time. We've had many years of disappointment but today, all those hard times are worth it. Taupō's last grand final win was in the day of our fathers and all our uncles - we've lived under a shadow since 1986 but it was beautiful to get one today.
"I'm very proud. They believed in themselves and I think it was their mental toughness that got them through to the end. That's been a big focus of ours, we knew it was going to be a grind and we just needed to stay in that grind, stay tough and believe in each other."
The first quarter of the game, as is often the way in finals, was tight and cagey as the two sides felt each other out. Taupō took the lead through a try to five-eighth John Koko but Pacific hit back immediately through winger Victor Karora-Reu to lead 6-4.
In the final 15 minutes of the first half Taupō came to life, sparked by an intercept try to winger Stevie Henry to make it 10-6. They piled on three more tries, including a quickfire double to the other winger Ayden Inglis, to lead 26-6 at halftime.
It may have looked like Taupō had the win locked up but Pacific were not ready to believe it. The Sharks clawed their way back into the match, scoring three tries to reduce the deficit to 24-26 with two minutes left to play. The game was in the balance and the crowd were on the edge of their seats.
That is when Taupō five eighth Koko took matters into his own hands, putting a chip over the top, regathering and brushing off a tackle to race away and score. It was just reward for a player who was dominant throughout.
Taupō and Pacific set for one last battle
All action at secondary school finals day
It was not all bad for the Pacific Club though - their second team won the Bay of Plenty Premier Reserve final 46-10 against the Central Lions.
Bay of Plenty Rugby League Finals results
Taupō Phoenix 32 Pacific Sharks 24
Pacific Sharks 46 Central Lions 10