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The Otago Whalers put the Tasman Titans away 44-18 to secure the South Island premiership at Oliver Park in Blenheim on Saturday.
Otago went through the premiership undefeated and now heads into the national championship round with the Wellington Orcas and the Northland Swords. A promotion-relegation match is on the line for the eventual winner.
The Titans had not registered a win but showed plenty of fire on Saturday.
After weathering the initial storm from the Titans attack, the Whalers opened the scoring through centre Jalan Wallace, who got on the end of a left-edge shift play.
Star second rower Jong Hoon Lee was next, securing the first of his three tries by running a good line and busting through the defence. Lee, who was not only an attacking threat but also a defensive powerhouse, was named man of the match. The first half was heavily one-sided. Prop Camrin Brown busted through an attempted tackle when running the ball from a kick-off,
then ran the full length of the field to score a try. Brown also racked up countless tackles and broke the line on several occasions to lay the platform for the Whalers’ attack.At the halftime break, Otago was up 28-6 despite a poor completion rate.
The Titans again came out firing in the second half and managed to find the way over the line twice in quick succession to narrow the lead to just 10 points.
With frustration beginning to take its toll for the Whalers, the calm decision-making from five-eighth Louis Tili was crucial to leading a revival. Tili began to direct the attack with precision on the left edge. Lock Josh McKenzie continued to impress, breaking the line and making major metres through the middle of the ground before debutant Ben Hanara broke through the defence to score Otago’s first second-half points. Hanara was strong all day.
The win gave the Whalers back-to-back titles in the South Island premiership.
Coach David Reedy was happy his side had improved its discipline and was pleased to get the win, despite noting that there was still plenty to work on.
"Going unbeaten in the competition was a bonus," he said.
"But we were tested the whole way by some good sides, so it will be important to lift our game when we go up a level."
The Whalers have a bye this weekend, then head to Wellington on September 22 for their first match of the national championship. In the other South Island fixture, the West Coast Chargers defeated the Aoraki Eels 29-14.
- Ricki Allan