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Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau have some separation on the points table and ascendancy on the scoreboard over Byford Readimix Taihape, after an important 22-12 win at Memorial Park on Saturday.
The previous two Tasman Tanning Premier matches between the sides were decided by one-point in each direction, while it was the fourth game in a row where the visiting side picked up the win.
But this time, Kaierau were doing it comfortably until well into the second half, as they worked their way out to a 22-0 lead before the home made a late run in search of a bonus point.
No 8 Joe Edwards and winger Karl Pascoe scored first half tries, with winger Shandon Scott adding a conversion and penalty for a 15-0 halftime lead, which was further extended by reserve hooker Kohlt Coveny getting a converted try for an early 21st birthday present.
Taihape responded through their forward pack with prop Wiremu Cottrell getting a converted try while hooker Dylan Gallien then crossed for his third try in two games.
Looking for a bonus point, Kaierau had an attacking 5m scrum with time up, but Taihape firmly repulsed it and set off on a last-ditch attack to get a precious bonus of their own, with play ending back up field.
The win means Kaierau will take the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield to Waverley to face the team they swiped it off in Waverley Harvesting Border, who overcame a tough start in Ohakune to pull away from the game McCarthy Transport Ruapehu 44-12.
Ruapehu led 12-7 early after tries from prop Gabriel Hakaraia and Troy Brown, but Border just stepped up another notch to score 20 more points before halftime.
Although they had to work for them, Border picked up three more tries in the second half to move a point clear of Kaierau on the table with their bonus.
Again, it was the outside backs who prospered as Alex Vakarorogo, Isaiah Graham-Hooper and Tom Symes followed up their tries from last weekend against Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri.
Likewise, playmaker Craig Clare got a double as part of a 19-point haul with his goalkicking, although Ruapehu managed to prevent halfback Lindsay Horrocks from continuing his streak after scoring in the previous five games.
It was costly for Ruapehu that even when the game was gone they couldn't secure a four-try bonus point as they did the previous weekend against Taihape.
They will now go into their two season-defining matches – away to Ngamatapouri and then home to Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist – and need to win both of them handsomely to have a chance at sneaking into fourth spot.
With new naming sponsors, Ali Arc Logistics-DNA Kennels Marist Celtic have a clear break on the rest of the Tasman Tanning Senior field after their sixth bonus point win on Saturday.
Part of Marist Family Day at Spriggens Park and the racecourse grounds, Celtic pulled away in the second half for a 35-5 victory over winless Speirs Food Marton.
Moving up into second spot were likewise undefeated Harvey Round Motors Ratana, who made their third successful defence of the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield with a 31-10 win over Counties at the pa.
Having cleaned up the country teams, Ratana will now set their sights on the metropolitan clubs, and one of them in Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau made a costly trip to Memorial Park - losing 27-17 to Utiku Old Boys to fall back to third on the ladder.
Utiku's victory keeps alive their mathematical hopes of getting up into the top two for the September 19 final, with the teams below them likely too far back at the halfway point of their campaigns.
At Spriggens Park, Kelso Hunterville trailed 14-5 at halftime going into the headwind against the Marist Buffalos, but reversed proceedings when they changed ends to run out 25-14 winners.
In the curtain-raiser to the Manawatu Colts semifinal at Cooks Gardens, Bennett's Taihape pulled away from Black Bull Liquor Pirates for a 26-17 win.
Results, August 8
Tasman Tanning Premier, Week 6
Marist 28 (Viki Tofa, Luke Foster, Rory Gudsell, Cajun Teki-Botica tries; Ashton Coates 3 con, Rangi Kui con) Ngamatapouri 5 (Samu Kubunavanua try). HT: 14-0.
Challenge Shield – Kaierau 22 (Joe Edwards, Karl Pascoe, Kohlt Coveny tries; Shandon Scott pen, 2 con) Taihape 12 (Wiremu Cottrell, Dylan Gallien tries; Dane Whale con). HT: 15-0.
Border 44 (Craig Clare 2, Nick Harding, Alex Vakarorogo, Cody Wickham, Isaiah Graham-Hooper, Tom Symes tries; Clare pen, 3 con) Ruapehu 12 (Gabriel Hakaraia, Troy Brown tries; Tautahi Rawiri con). HT: 27-12.
Senior Championship, Week 6
At Spriggens Park: Hunterville 25 Marist Buffalos 14. HT: 14-5 Buffalos.
At racecourse: Marist Celtic35 Speirs Food Marton 5. HT: 12-5.
At Cooks Gardens: Taihape 26 Black Bull Liquor Pirates 17. HT: 14-10.
At Ratana Pa: Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield - Ratana 31 Counties 10. HT: 14-7.
At Memorial Park: Utiku OB 27 Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau 17. HT: 22-5.
St John's Wanganui Metro are off to the Manawatu Colts final in Palmerston North on Saturday after a comfortable 45-7 win in their Cooks Gardens semifinal over Feilding Old Boys. They will meet the only team to beat them in 2020 in the Feilding Yellows who, as expected, won their semifinal over Dannevirke Sports Club 38-14.
COLLEGIATE: The Whanganui Collegiate first XV will look to lock in their semifinal spot for the Central North Island competition this weekend against winless St John's Hastings. Collegiate beat Rathkeale College 22-0 last Wednesday in the South Region pool. A win over Hastings means Collegiate's last pool game against rivals Feilding High School would decide the order of the top two for the playoffs with the North Region teams.
MVP: The Premier Most Valuable Player points after the first round of games were: 1. Timoci Seruwalu (Ngamatapouri) 13; 2. Samu Kubunavanua (Ngamatapouri) 9; 3. Kamipeli Latu (Border) 8; =4. Gabriel Hakaraia (Ruapehu), Jack Yarrall (Marist) 7; =6. Lindsay Horrocks (Border), Tyler Rogers-Holden (Taihape), Brad Graham (Marist), Rangi Kui (Marist), Cameron Davies (Kaierau) 6.