They may have done it the hard way, but the Bay of Plenty Lakers are the winners of the New Zealand Rugby League Championship division.

Bay of Plenty always seemed to be chasing the game against Otago, at Puketawhero Park on Saturday, as errors and ill-discipline kept them on the back foot. However, in the dying minutes and with the score locked at 24-all they received a very kickable penalty in front of the posts.

Aussie Tuwhangai has been a revelation for Bay of Plenty this year, having been asked to play in the front row, second row and at centre at different stages of the campaign and performing admirably at each.

Having also added goal kicking to his repertoire in recent weeks, it was he who nailed a sideline conversion to lock the scores up at 24-all before kicking the match-winning penalty to give his side a 26-24 win and claim the championship.


Tuwhangai had missed a couple of kicks earlier in the game and said he was nervous stepping up to take those match-defining kicks at the end.

"At least I got the important ones, that's what matters. I could hear the supporters saying 'you can get it' which put me off a bit, I try to block it out.

"There were a few rough patches during the game - discipline and minor mistakes, but if we get those out of the game we're all right. Usually in the other games, in the last couple of minutes, we let the other team in a bit, but I thought we held on to the end today."

Otago started the game strongly and were rewarded after 11 minutes when centre Hyrum Martin crossed for the first try of the match after being put into space on the right-hand side and racing through a big gap in the defence.

The Lakers hit straight back through five-eighth Johnson Peri who received the ball on the left, inside the Otago 20m, before straightening play up expertly and reaching out to score in the tackle and reduce the deficit to 6-4.

With 10 minutes left in the first half Bay of Plenty were down to 12 men after a player was sinbinned for a late tackle on the kicker. Otago immediately took advantage with a neatly worked try to winger Willie Time on the right-hand side. Five-eighth and captain Vila Apuula kicked the conversion from the sideline to extend the lead to 12-4.

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Bay of Plenty refused to go away and with minutes left to play in the half scored their second try. Peri started the move on halfway, shifting the ball left to centre Cam Walters who raced through a gap. Walters summed the situation up perfectly, drawing the last defender and putting his winger Yannis Mea in to score. The Lakers trailed 12-10 at halftime.

Otago started the second half with great intent and, on the back of consecutive penalties, Camrin Brown bounced and spun out of a couple of tackles to score. The try was converted and Otago led 18-10.

The Lakers hit back with unconverted tries to Mea and fullback William Cook to lock things up at 18-all. With 15 minutes to play the game began to open up and Bay of Plenty piled pressure on their opposition.

Having held them out Otago went down the other end and took a 24-18 lead thanks to a converted try from hooker Sam Johnstone.

Bay of Plenty refused to give up and with six minutes to play winger Pesini Tavake broke out of his own half with an excellent kick return. With Otago back-pedalling the Lakers shifted the ball right where front rower Scott Evans showed great strength and composure to score in the corner. Trailing 24-22 it was up to Tuwhangai to convert from the sideline under immense pressure, and he nailed it.

With two minutes left to play Otago gave away a penalty 20m out and right in front of the posts, which handed Bay of Plenty the win and the Championship title.

This weekend the Lakers take on the loser of the Premiership division for the opportunity to be promoted to New Zealand's top rugby league competition next season.