Rugby league grand final a real treat
There are few local sporting occasions I enjoy more than a rugby league grand final.
In last year's Bay of Plenty/Coastline final, Pikiao pulled a rabbit out of the hat, scoring in the last seconds of the game to beat Pacific and send their supporters wild.
This year it was Mangakino and Ngongotahā who did battle for the title at Puketawhero Park on Saturday, and once again we were treated to an epic encounter.
Mangakino have looked virtually unbeatable all season. They won the pre-season Bay of Plenty Nines Tournament and sat comfortably at the top of the Premier standings all season.
Unfortunately for them, sport is a cruel mistress and it all counts for nothing if you can't get across the line in the final.
Ngongotahā coach Paul Nahu is one of the more astute readers of the game and speaking to him throughout the season, he was happy with how his team were tracking, but he was convinced they had the potential to go to another level.
That is exactly what they did on Saturday. They dominated every aspect of the game on the way to a 34-10 victory, to the point where it was hard to believe they went in as underdogs.
Their big forward pack, particularly Matthew Filipo and Joe Nuku, tormented Mangakino in the middle of the field, while halves Destry Tamai and Corey Nahu managed the game expertly, ensuring they played the majority of the game at the right end of the field.
I'm a big fan of rugby league and one of the things that excites me most about our local competition is the passion the teams play with.
That passion and intensity was highlighted when the Ngongotahā and Mangakino each performed their own team haka face-to-face after the final whistle, as a sign of mutual respect.
Watching the video still gives me goosebumps.
To their credit Mangakino, who were clearly heartbroken to have fallen at the final hurdle, were supremely gracious in defeat. They congratulated their opposition and I am looking forward to seeing how this result fuels them next season.
Adding to the drama and excitement on the field was the way the event was run by the Coastline and Bay of Plenty rugby league organisations.
In Puketawhero Park they have an outstanding venue and they certainly made the most of it.
There was a DJ playing music throughout and an MC providing updates on the game.
Making that effort all the more worthwhile was the buy-in from the fans.
Bus loads of Mangakino supporters made the trip over and joined the Ngongotahā faithful in packing out the ground.
They carried giant banners and were vocal but positive throughout.
It is a bit sad that it is now a whole year until the next grand final, but the Bay of Plenty Lakers representative side will be named in the coming weeks - expect to see plenty of Mangakino and Ngongotahā players in the mix.