Whalers laid waste to by vigorous Vulcans

Veteran commentator Glen Larmer referred to the Otago Whalers as the "Cinderella story" of the New Zealand Rugby League season.

But the shoe just would not fit at the Trusts Arena in Auckland on Saturday.

Blame the rain — it was constant and bordering on vicious as the Auckland Vulcans flexed their muscles to thump the Whalers 50-6 in the NZRL Premiership semifinal.

Just making it this far was something of a victory for the Whalers in their debut season in the top flight.

They did their best to be competitive, led by veteran forward Mika Mafi, and even held the lead briefly, but eventually the sheer class and power of the Vulcans shone through in horrendous conditions.

The Whalers could not match the Aucklanders’ strength, and they also fell off some tackles at crucial moments.

"We didn’t quite bring our best today," Otago captain Hagan Free said. "But it’s been a pretty good season, all in all."

The semifinal could not have started worse for the Whalers as they were caught napping in the second minute and watched blockbusting wing Siapo Pasene score the first of his three tries.

But it quickly got better.

There was a slice of luck as a Jordan McEntee kick ricocheted off a Vulcans defender and Michael Strydom, making his first start of the season, was on hand to score a try.

McEntee’s conversion gave the Whalers a 6-4 lead and the sun was shining. Well, metaphorically, and just for a few moments.

Pasene showed immense strength to tear the ball away in a one-on-one tackle and score his second try.

Then it was time for an old mate to take centre stage.

Freedom Vaha’akolo, the former Highlanders and Otago rugby enigma, went through and around three defenders to give the Vulcans a handy buffer.

The last seven minutes of the first half were not pleasant for the Whalers.

Makaia Tafua produced some quick thinking to make it 20-6, prop Matthew Whyte showed power and pace to run over two Whalers for a booming individual try, and Pasene completed his hat-trick on the stroke of halftime.

The Whalers did their best to hang in there as the rain turned biblical.

But the Vulcans entered cruise mode, scoring four more tries to sail into the final.

They will meet the Counties-Manukau Stingrays, who beat the Akarana Falcons 26-8 in the other semifinal.

The West Coast Chargers beat the Aoraki Eels 24-20 in one Championship semifinal, and the Bay of Plenty Lakers beat Coastline 22-0 in the other.


Premiership semifinal

The scores

Auckland Vulcans             50
Siapo Pasene 3, Mike Williams 2, Freedom Vaha’akolo, Makaia Tafua, Matthew Whyte, Presley Seumanu, Jamal Hunt tries; Frances Leger 3 con, Dylan Tavita 2 con.

Otago Whalers                     6
Michael Strydom try; Jordan McEntee con.

Halftime:   Vulcans 30-6.