Kai Toa justifies favourite’s tag for semifinal rounds

The Kia Toa Tigers are the minor premiers of the Otago competition ORL after defeating the Dunedin Bears 45-6 on Saturday.

The Tigers decimated the Bears to cement their spot atop the competition in the last round of regular season play, while University beat South Pacific Raiders 30-8.

The heavily one-sided scoreline in Kia Toa’s win was a reflection of the attacking prowess the Tigers possess, and with Andre Kemp and Taua Piri directing the play in the halves, the Tigers attack was in good hands. Kemp provided quality ball to his outside backs who were able to break the line with ease and he also had an edge with his kicking game, kicking  more than one 40/20 to gain major territory.

Koben Katipa received man of the match honours for the heavy workload he maintained throughout the physical encounter, particularly on defence. Katipa’s dominant tackles on the opposition forwards were crucial, and he was supported by the defensive efforts from hooker Joseph Wrathall and lock Hagan Free.

The Bears showed great resilience to keep fighting against a ferocious Tigers outfit, and its powerful forwards were key.

Ben Sorenson, Tia Ratu, and Marcel Taani shouldered a heavy workload, taking hard carries into the line and then backing it up with formidable tackles on defence.

The Tigers’ performance was a timely reminder that they are competition favourites heading into the semifinals, and that a third successive title may well be within reach.

University overcame a slow start to their contest with the South Pacific Raiders and put on a strong second-half performance to come away with a decisive victory. Both sides allowed too many mistakes to creep into their play in the early stages, which led to a low-scoring and a challenging first half, full of momentum shifts.

The Raiders looked threatening at times, particularly when Willie Time and Tama Apineru were able to link up with some elusive runs and strong fends to scramble the opposition defence. Prop Ben Rumble broke the line on a couple of occasions as well, but it was his big hits on defence that stood out in yet another strong performance in his first year with the club.

However, the second-half efforts of University were too much for the Raiders to contain. Prop Jared Croawell and second rower Tyson Ball, who scored two tries, laid the platform for the students, with both men breaking the line with strong ball carries and utilising quick play-the-balls to ensure the defensive line was under immense pressure. Fullback Finn Langdale was recognised as man of the match after making several line breaks, racking up the most metres gained with ball in hand, setting up several tries for his side and scoring one of his own. 

Coach Ray Fitiao praised his team for its ability to convert opportunities into points in the second half, and cited a great team effort as the key to  success. The first round of semifinals takes place next weekend at Kensington Oval.

- Rikki Allan

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