The Takahiwai Warriors are back-to-back Northland premier rugby league champions after a dominant 46-12 win over the Hikurangi Stags on Saturday.
Playing in front of a sectioned off crowd of about 300 people at Whangārei's Semenoff Stadium, the defending champions stamped their authority on the game as they led 34-nil at halftime and kept the Stags at bay.
The Warriors, who beat the Otangarei Knights in last year's final, were resolute on defence and ruthless on attack as they ran in eight tries before the Stags scored two consolation tries in the final 20 minutes.
The win caps off another dominant season for the Warriors who went through the 2020 premier competition undefeated. It was their third premier title since about 2012.
"I was pleased with our defensive effort in the first half, keeping [the Stags] to zero [points]," Warriors coach Shane Hool said.
"The boys really aimed up well and just didn't give them any time."
Tries for Takahiwai came through Eroni Biukoto, Tehau Lemon, Charles Tarau, Jesse Epiha, Eru Shelford, Mike Hauraki and a brace from Kyle Hool. Levita Levita converted seven of the tries.
Hool highlighted the efforts of Takahiwai stalwart and loose forward Ross McFarlane, who used his stamina and experience to steer the team to victory.
"[McFarlane] played out of his skin, he was definitely the best player on the park."
After a tough period due to Covid-19 where players opted out of the season to continue working, Hool was glad to earn the second consecutive title and hoped the team could win a third next year.
Last year, the Warriors had contemplated leaving the Northland competition and heading to Auckland for a more competitive league. However, Hool said it was not financially feasible and the club would be staying north.
For the Stags, this year was their first appearance in the premier competition since 2017 and surprised many when they beat Hora Hora in the semifinal to make the final.
Stags coach John Radovanovich commended his side on finishing the game well against a dominant Warriors outfit.
"From our perspective, I think we did as good as we could have, coming up against a well-drilled Takahiwai team," he said.
"We've never really been put in a situation like that before in a grand final so it was surprising but at the end of the day, we knew that to beat Takahiwai, you're going to have to play 110 per cent better than them."
Radovanovich said defensive frailty was the main reason for the first half blowout and despite a strong halftime message of taking the play to their opposition, the Stags were able to cross the Takahiwai line only through James Witehira and Dilano Henry-Turner in the latter stages.
Nevertheless, Radovanovich was proud of his team and club for the sacrifices made to compete in the premier competition this year.
"Just to get back into the competition and get to the big dance, I think, is a massive achievement for us."
Radovanovich said conversations held after Saturday's game seemed to indicate the players and coaching staff were excited to compete again next year.
The Stags club also featured in the curtain-raiser on Saturday with their under-15 side taking on the Otangarei Knights under-15s.
Down 20-nil at one stage, the Stags closed the gap to just two points before the Knights confirmed a 28-24 win.