Counties conquer Northland Taniwha
Trust Stephen Donald to make his mark.
The Beaver turned this Mitre 10 Cup crossover clash between Counties Manukau and Northland in the Steelers’ favour by scoring the crucial try in their 25-16 victory in Pukekohe on Sunday.
A suspected broken ankle to Northland’s replacement back Blake Hohaia, which occurred during the attack for Donald’s 65th minute try, meant a long stoppage in a tense final quarter where Counties moved ahead.
Counties climb off the bottom of the premiership and leave Waikato last, while Northland still remain in contention for the championship semi-finals.
Few will care to remember this contest played in trying conditions, but both badly needed competition points with just two rounds left. Counties are fighting to avoid relegation to the championship in a three-way battle with Auckland and Waikato, while Northland are at last gunning for some semi-finals action after years of mediocrity.
The Taniwha looked tired, after putting so much energy into edging Otago 32-30 and were caught napping when Counties went ahead inside two minutes. Counties had the better of the opening 40 after Albert Nikoro and Tim Nanai-Williams went over, but Northland’s Hohaia used his momentum to put the Taniwha 13-12 ahead in the 50th minute after Peter Breen’s two first half penalties.
Breen’s third three-pointer then cancelled out Baden Kerr’s first successful penalty as Northland led 16-15 going into the final quarter.
Donald’s introduction then lifted the few who braved the awful weather at Ecolight Stadium and his try, after Counties turned Northland over, gave the hosts the ascendancy.
Hohaia’s injury meant a delay and Northland ran out of steam as Counties stretched their lead to 25-16 when Luteru Laulala added a penalty in the 76th minute.
Counties broke the deadlock by scoring inside 90 seconds after switching it from left to right and back again before Nikoro went over following Fotu Lokotui’s line break.
Breen then opened Northland’s account with an easy three off the tee and after 26 scoreless minutes, Counties scored their second try with Nanai-Williams. Breen struck a sweet penalty between the posts after the hooter sounded to end the first half.
Northland’s Hohaia crashed over under the posts with his first touch. Counties wrestled the lead back immediately when Kerr converted his first penalty. But Breen’s third penalty put the Taniwha ahead again until Donald scored, after breaking Northland’s line.
Northland stay fourth, as Counties move level on points with fifth-placed Auckland.