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The Dunedin Bears will line up as favourites today against the South Pacific Raiders in the Otago Grand Final.
To say the Raiders are surprise finalists would be an understatement, considering their road to the finals consisted of a number of defeats. However, they pulled together and got it right when it counted most — the minor and major semifinals. The Raiders managed to win both of their semifinals by scoring a try in the last act of play before the fulltime whistle blew, leaving University and the Kia Toa Tigers disappointed.
The Raiders have a great deal of talent among their line-up and should not be underestimated despite a challenging season, particularly with coach David Reedy at the helm. Reedy, the current coach of the Otago representative side, said there was no pressure on his side this time around because they were lucky to be in the final, so they have adopted a nothing-to-lose mentality.
A win would bring the Raiders their first title since 2015, and would be a first premiership for all their players except the experienced trio of Shaun Tahau, Manassah Kutia and Steven Campbell-Paniona.
The Bears, on the other hand, have had a mixed season due to injury and outside commitments but, for the most part, have looked every bit the title contenders they have turned out to be.
In their inaugural season in the ORL competition, the Bears have managed to notch up victories over all their Otago opponents, as well as gaining some big wins over some of the Southland sides in the Otago-Southland combined rounds.
A premiership title in their first season in the ORL would be the fairytale finish to a strong season, and many of the Bears’ players are familiar with finals footy, having come from the dissolved East Coast Eagles club which was the beaten finalist in the last four ORL Grand Finals.
- Ricki Allan
ORL Grand Final
University Oval No 5, 2.30pm today
Bears (three to be omitted): Terrence Reid, Talmage Lawrence, Micah Lepaio, Mikal Tuari, Chase Stephens, Tupu Asuao, Owen Draper, Cel Taani, Sam Johnstone, Reuben Katene, Ben Sorensen, William Jackson, Ellery Fruean, Kamryn Brown, Jimmy Eteuati, Zayyen Benson-Brown, Caleb Lawrence, Hamuera Taingahue, Camrin Brown, Sebastian Potgieter.
Raiders (four to be omitted): Ben Hanara, Ben Rumble, Chase Kennedy, Chris Talauta, Ethan Ramage, Garth Kinley, James Piho, Lausei Pritchard, Louis Tili, Mackenzie Haugh, Mana Ashby, Manassah Kutia, Matthan Schaaf, Mika Vaitupu, Misinale Ofa, Shaun Tahau, Steven Campbell-Paniona, Tama Apineru, Teremoana Hamblin, Willie Time, Wilson Driver.
Key Raiders threats
Tama Apineru: an elusive ball runner with the best fend in the competition. Apineru will likely dictate the success of the Raiders’ backline.
Willie Time: like Apineru, Time possesses great footwork, speed and agility. Time’s determination to score tries sets him apart from his opponents.
Chris Talauta: a physical centre that provides serious impact out wide, while also possessing the ability to lay solid shots on defence.
Ben Rumble: a standout performer for the Raiders this season, Rumble’s strong carries and strong shots on defence have laid the platform for his side on multiple occasions.
Key Bears threats
Sam Johnstone: a quick and smart hooker who directs play with ease, as well as being an immaculate tackler who locks down the middle of the field. Johnstone’s presence will not go unnoticed.
Camrin Brown: a strong ball runner with good pace and footwork, as well as being a solid defender who will likely be among the top three tacklers in the game if he plays big minutes.
Ellory Freuan: a utility player with the mindset and skills to dominate his opposition, regardless of where he takes place on the field. Freuan’s ball running is particularly lethal and the Raiders will be keen to shut him down.
Reuben Katene: a big body with the skillset required to get some real go-forward for his side.