Teams start pushing hard to firm slots in playoff matches

Alhambra-Union ignited a spark in an attempt to qualify for the top six playoffs next month with a 20-12 victory against early-season favourite Harbour at Watson Park.

After withstanding a torrid assault on its line in the opening exchanges, AU swept up field in the 12th minute and first five-eighth Ben McCarthy carved through a gap in midfield to open the scoring and set the scene for the match.

The first of two long-range penalty goals from Levi Emery shortly afterwards extending AU’s lead to 10 points.

A momentary lapse from AU proved costly as Harbour clawed its way back into the match through its backline, exposing a defensive lapse behind an authoritative Alhambra-Union pack.

The ball was cleared back to first-five-eighth Toka Sopoaga, who opted to run, wrong-footing the AU defence which parted like the Red Sea, and his offload found left wing Mone Samate, who scored in the corner.

Despite a running time of just over 49min in the first half, neither side could add to the 10-5 scoreline, until Harbour’s poor discipline led to AU doubling its score through a Delaney McKenzie try and a sensational second long-range penalty goal from Emery.

Only in borrowed time in the second half was Harbour able to reply, when Samate scored a second try.

Hooker Arthur Allen and prop Tristan Fuli featured in a dominant Alhambra-Union pack, while Emery provided a secure safety net at fullback.

Harbour was well served by its backline. Sopoaga, Samate and midfielders Viliami Tufui and Willie Tufui were ever-present dangers.

Southern 20

Kaikorai 20

Southern was probably the happier of the sides to leave Bishopscourt with a draw.

The Magpies trailed Kaikorai 15-3 at the break.

But expectations began to swell as the gap narrowed and again, when the scores were locked 20-20.

It was Kaikorai, though, which had the opportunity to win the game in the dying moments.

Ben Miller attempted to slot a dropped goal but missed. Kaikorai also set up a lineout drive from 5m out but the defence was up to the challenge.

The home team controlled proceedings early. Kaikorai was picking off most of Southern’s lineout ball and taking advantage of a good portion of Southern’s mistakes to build pressure.

They also strung together some good phases.

Someone other than Jordan McEntee actually grabbed an intercept. The king will not be pleased but Ben Miller was happy with his effort.

He picked off a floater from Riku Kitahara and scuttled away.

Outside back Corey Miller also registered a five-pointer before the break.

Southern fell further behind when Slade McDowell crossed.

But powerful winger Timoci Tavatavanawai scored to cut the gap and the Magpies mounted further pressure through an utterly dominant scrum which eventually earned them a penalty try.

The draw has created a logjam in the standings. Green Island is clear at the top and Zingari-Richmond is well-entrenched at the bottom. But there are only seven points between the other seven teams.

Taieri 49

Zingari-Richmond 0

Taieri lock Don Lolo carries the ball in traffic as teammates Mark Rooney (on ground) and Brayden...
Taieri lock Don Lolo carries the ball in traffic as teammates Mark Rooney (on ground) and Brayden Laing (back to camera), and Zingari Richmond fullback Scott Hunter watch, during their game at Montecillo on Saturday.PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON

You could call it enthusiastic encouragement. But that would probably be a bit like describing torture as enhanced interrogation.

Whatever was said in the
Taieri dressing rooms at halftime, the Eels certainly emerged a changed side at Montecillo.

Taieri led 5-0 at the break and had played some pretty dismal footy.

The next 40 minutes was more like it from the defending champions.

Impatience had given way to structure, and the tries they had so desperately been searching for earlier came a lot more naturally than before.

Taieri ran in seven of them to pull away and win 49-0.

Loose forward Leroy Ferguson bagged a couple. No8 Sam Fischli made a big impact when he entered the game shortly before halftime.

And flanker Jesse Hutton was instrumental.

The three were immense in the second half and took the game to the opposition.

Taieri had the shove on at scrum time but that advantage disappeared when the game went to golden oldie rules with 20 minutes remaining.

Zingari-Richmond had run out of fit props.

Taieri had to make a late shuffle around when promising first-five Cameron Millar was ruled out with a bout of food poisoning before the game.

Taieri desperately needed a good win. Competition for the final few playoff spots looks tight and the Eels do not have an easy run in.

They host Dunedin next. The Sharks have had a mixed season but hold on to third place, despite stringing together three consecutive defeats.

Taieri then plays Kaikorai at Bishopscourt in round eight and Harbour in its final round-robin game. It is a tough run.

Green Island 42

Dunedin 24

Dunedin dominated the opening 20 minutes on the back of a strong performance by the pack.

But for all the endeavour it only had a try to hooker Alden Lloyd from a lineout drive after 10 minutes.

Green Island finally got into the game after a terrible Dunedin pass straight into the arms of first-five Finn Strawbridge, who dashed 60m, only to be bought down on the line by flying winger Oscar Schmidt Uili but the rather dubious try was awarded.

It capitalised by scoring two more in the final 10 minutes of the spell to midfielder Ray Nu’u and flying winger Michael Manson to lead 21-5 at the break.

It started the second half in the same fashion as Manson scored again off another Nu’u break and then Dunedin threw the obligatory intercept pass this time winger Levi Harmon raced away and the game was done.

Dunedin put some respectability into the score and gained a crucial bonus point with three late tries to its wingers Schmidt Uili and Tommy Clout and big prop Sepa Vaka, who crashed over for the last say.

For Green Island Michael Manson, Ray Nu’u and Halfback James Arscott were very impressive and No8 Dylan Neil, lock Woody Kirkwood, who also scored, and hooker Jake Fowler were its best up front.

For Dunedin, Schmidt Uili scored a stunner with his aerial skills and pace. Its two props, Kees Scott and Vaka, were into everything and carried strongly.


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