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The Keas and Panthers – who faced off in four straight deciders from 2016-19, all won by Linwood – split their regular-season matches, setting up a massive semi-final showdown at Hornby.
The arch-rivals delivered, with the Keas ultimately prevailing 14-10 after an epic arm-wrestle.
The five-time defending champs led 14-6 at halftime. The Panthers posted the only try of the second half but were unable to find a go-ahead score.
Canterbury Bulls coach Andrew Auimatagi, who has steered Linwood to four straight premierships (2016-19) from the sidelines, is on track to play in a grand final for the first time in more than a decade after lining up for the Keas at five-eighth.
The Panthers will get a second bite at the grand final cherry next week against the Hornets, who needed extra-time to eliminate the Northern Bulldogs 28-22 in the minor semi-final at Halswell Domain.
The teams were locked 12-all at halftime and 22-all when the whistle went at 80 minutes.
But it was the Hornets who came up with the decisive play in the extra-time pressure-cooker, with centre Nick Evans’ second try in the first half of the added period proving the match-winner.
The Walter Wilson-coached Halswell side is vying for their first grand final appearance since winning the 2014 title – but preliminary final opponents Hornby can take the psychological edge after their 64-12 landslide final-round win when the neighbouring teams last met.
The fifth-placed Celebration Lions grabbed the first Gore Cup final spot, fighting back from a halftime deficit to beat Eastern Eagles 22-20.
The Eagles will play Riccarton Knights next week. The Knights thumped Papanui Tigers 50-12, with promising fullback Matariki Halbert-Pere racking up 26 points from three tries and seven goals.
In the Canterbury Cup premiers reserves semi-finals, table-topping Marist Saints-Papanui outlasted Northern Bulldogs 20-12 to seal their Grand Final spot and the Hornets defeated the Panthers 32-16 in the elimination semi.
BARTERCARD NZ CRL MEN’S PREMIERSHP SEMI-FINALS
Linwood Keas 14 (Phil Wahnig, Alex Todd, Rihara Peeti tries; Leon Jarden goal) defeated Hornby Panthers 10 (Jordan Campbell, Charlie Charlie tries: James Baxendale goal) at Leslie Park
Halswell Hornets 28 (Nick Evans 2, Jope Finau, Allen Morrison, Keenan Williams tries; Jamie Nuttridge 4 goals) defeated Northern Bulldogs 22 (Josh Rawiri 2, Nick Wain, Josh Endacott tries; Endacott 2, Nathaniel Tirikatene goals) at Halswell Domain
BARTERCARD NZ CRL MEN’S PREMIERSHP GORE CUP
Celebration Lions 22 defeated Eastern Eagles 20 at Cuthberts Green
Riccarton Knights 50 defeated Papanui Tigers 12 at Crosbie Park
ISC SPORT CRL CANTERUBRY CUP SEMI-FINALS
Marist Saints-Papanui 20 defeated Northern Bulldogs 12 at Bishopdale Park
Halswell Hornets 32 defeated Hornby Panthers 16 at Halswell Domain
-By Will Evans