Hikurangi Stags 32 Moerewa Tigers 18
(ht 16-4): No fairy-tale ending to the Moerewa Tigers's title aspirations, going down under a relentless barrage from the Hikurangi Stags in the Whangarei City and Districts senior league grand final at Toll Stadium on Saturday.
The game was virtually all over within two minutes of the kick-off when non-existent defence allowed Innocent Tuimavave Mau to cross the line for the first of three tries he scored on the day. From this point on, the defending premiers were never to be denied and they outdid their opposition in all areas for the rest of the game on the way to the title. Another Hikurangi try was scored by player coach Joe Rau, a conversion was kicked by Jack Walker while also notable was Koro Manawaiti.
Tigers standouts included try scorers Anaru Thompson with two and Herewini McGregor; along with Jayden Bently-Hape with a conversion, Kiel Davis, and Alex Wiki off the bench.
The Tigers couldn't be too despondent afterwards, having given their best against the form team in the competition this year. The Bay club wound down another long and competitive season back home throughout the remainder of the weekend.
Tigers Tom T Tauranga admitted the Stags played the smarter game in the final.
"How they played the game, they came up the middle, we couldn't get the same thing going for us. That was the difference. At the end of the day, full credit to the Stags. They had more structure than us."
As for being the end of the season, Tauranga didn't appear too perturbed. "Yeah, over! Blimmin' long season, 22 games in all we played I think. Looking forward to a break."
Tauranga said the club will follow those Tigers selected into the Swords Prems including Tawio Davis, brothers Ananeil and Anaru Thompson, Wilson Hona and Jayden Bentley Hape; and also noted the club was considering introducing a softball competition to the region over the summer.
Despite the loss, the Tigers' presence in the final was further evidence Far North sides had enjoyed a generally strong season in this year's competition which was even more remarkable considering the recession and - for Bay sides, particularly - the industrial dispute at Moerewa.
Although the downward spiral of 2009 champions, the Kaikohe Lions, was disappointing for all to observe, there were several highlights including seeing last year's grand finalists, Bay Slayers, struggling initially but finishing well; the resurgence of the Hokianga Pioneers as a force to be reckoned with under coach Phil Marsh; Otaua consolidating their giant-killing reputation; and the materialisation of a new team - and from Kaitaia too boot - the Muriwhenua Falcons.
The grand final on Saturday was curtain raised with a league festival of games for under 7s, 9s and 11s before a North v South game to select a Northland under 13s team took place to conclude the Northland domestic season.
Juanita Hool, the chairperson of the board of control, said it had been a great day but did admit to being glad the long season - around 25 weeks in total - was finally at an end.
Hikurangi's Joe Rau will now coach the Northern Swords premiers in the National Premiership competition. The Swords campaign begins at home this Saturday at Toll Stadium against Waicoa Bays.
The 15s kick-off at 11.15am, the 17s at 12.30pm (at College Boys RFC) and the premiers at 2pm. Cost to enter is $5 for adults, and a gold coin koha for under 15s.