Raiders pip University to earn preliminary final spot

University’s Matt Nicolson scores as he is tackled by Steven Campbell-Paniona, of South Pacific...
University’s Matt Nicolson scores as he is tackled by Steven Campbell-Paniona, of South Pacific Raiders, during a Dunedin club rugby league match at the Kensington Oval on Saturday. Finn Langdale is in support. Photo: Linda Robertson
The South Pacific Raiders have booked their spot in the preliminary final next weekend.

They put in their performance of the season and scored a try in the final minute to pip University at the post with a 24-22 win on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Dunedin Bears upset the Kia Toa Tigers with a dominant 36-22 win, paving their way straight to the grand final.

The Tigers  will face the Raiders in the preliminary final.

It was a game of momentum swings and point-trading as the Raiders gained the early lead but University was always within range. The halftime score was 14-10 in the Raiders’ favour, and University was a man down after  captain Ricki Allan succumbed to a knee injury.

Centres Willie Time and Chris Talauta were dangerous with ball in hand and their offloading abilities put teammates into open space regularly. The Raiders’ forwards were also threatening; props Lausei Pritchard and Ben Rumble maintained heavy work-rates on both attack and defence and lock Nale Ofa provided the energy under pressure.

University fought back in the second half, taking the lead late in the contest.The fight was largely led by veteran Finn Langdale.

He  was phenomenal in his first game at hooker, directing the attack, shutting down the middle of the field on defence and being the leader his teammates could look to in periods of difficulty.

Josh McKenzie shouldered a heavy defensive workload and Matt Nicholson was great out on the edge, scoring a try and using his pace and footwork to challenge the opposition line.

After taking the lead by two points with three minutes left on the clock, the students looked set for victory. However, they turned the ball over and then conceded a penalty. With time up, and  on the last tackle, the Raiders  players threw the ball around and offloaded.

They went side to side across the field, before left winger Teremoana Hamblin managed to score in the left-hand corner.

The Dunedin Bears had a change in fortune in their second game against the Tigers in as many weeks. The first half was tightly contested, with both sides using their forwards to crash up the middle of the park and then spreading to attack the opposition tryline. Tigers captain Vila Apu’ula’s shift to lock proved to be a double-edged sword. He went on to rack up the most tackles and hit-ups for his side, but it meant  he could not lead the attack from the halves. Apu’ula found support from Shane Unahi, Koben Katipa and Joseph Wrathall, who all had strong showings. Nothing could separate the sides as the whistle signalled halftime with the scores level at 10-10.

In the second half, the Bears were able to shift gears and move the ball out to the edges. Multiple scoring opportunities were found out wide and Micah Lepaio dotted down for two tries, showcasing his speed and freakish talent.

Man of the match Reuben Katene also scored four tries out on the edge, busting the line and taking on multiple defenders on each occasion. This second-half momentum was too much for the Tigers, despite a couple of late tries to lessen the divide.

- Ricki Allan

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