Whalers win to book place in semis

Saia Fifita celebrates scoring the Otago Whalers’ opening try at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday....
Saia Fifita celebrates scoring the Otago Whalers’ opening try at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The Otago Whalers have stamped their spot in the national premiership.

They beat the Canterbury Bulls 32-14 in a classy display at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday.

It was the Whalers’ first premiership win — after making the leap from the championship this season — and secured their spot in next week’s semifinals.

"Pretty stoked to get our first win and stay alive in the premiership for next season, so that was the other bonus," coach David Reedy said.

After a few nerves in the opening minute, Otago dominated most of the game, running away with six tries to three and keeping Canterbury to just four points in the second half.

Captain Jordan McEntee was classy, Keenan Masina and Mika Mafi made big carries — and were tough defenders — and Saia Fifita and Opeti Tuimana had speed to burn.

But across the park the Whalers were strong, backing each other up defensively and running away with some lovely tries.

"We were a bit panicked in the first 10 minutes, but the boys just managed to stay in the contest.

"That’s all we wanted to do. Just stay in the contest, be competitive and just go after the game.

"Our whole campaign’s based around effort and attitude and that’s all we ask for from the players and they gave that.

"Two times we’ve played the Bulls and twice we’ve beat them now — I don’t know does that make us the top South Island team?" Reedy said.

The Bulls scored early through Ketesemane Pouli.

He put through a grubber, and bounced off an Otago player, creating space to collect the ball and score.

The Whalers hit back with their own.

McEntee weaved around Bulls players and flung the ball out to the right wing, where Fifita sped away, slamming the ball down with excitement as he scored.

Tuimana then bolted off and scored — bringing the Whalers bench to their feet — to lead 10-4.

The Whalers had all of the possession and territory, but the Bulls eventually found some space.

Ngaheke Nepata sneaked through a kick and Muipu Nati finished it off.

But the Whalers scored again to extend their lead when Tama Apineru broke 30m up the field.

The ball found its way to Tuimana, who beat two defenders to score, and led 16-8 at the break.

The Whalers continued where they left off when Louis Tili put the kick through and Matt Vocea picked it up to finish.

The Bulls came out with more intent in the second, scoring through Jaedon Wellington, but struggled to to hold on to the ball.

Masina made some huge carries and picked up two late tries.

The Whalers now play the Auckland Vulcans in their semifinal at The Trusts Arena next Saturday.

Akarana Falcons face Counties Manukau Stingrays in the other playoff.

Otago also won the South Island women’s championship tournament at the weekend.

They beat the Aoraki Eels 34-10 and drew 12-12 with Canterbury development, but won the Mary Brennan Trophy on points differential.


NZRL Premiership

The scores

Otago Whalers                32

Opeti Tuimana 2, Keenan Masina 2, Saia Fifita, Matt Vocea tries; Jordan McEntee 4 con.

Canterbury Bulls            14

Ketesemane Pouli, Muipu Nati, Jaedon Wellington tries; Taniela Leka con.

Halftime:  Otago 16-8.