Middleton leads charge
Chris Middleton is literally head and shoulders above the opposition.
The massive Northern United lock was a standout when his team returned to winning ways in Wellington rugby’s second tier Hardham Cup on Saturday.
Norths needed a strong performance after their last-gasp loss to Old Boys-University’s second team last week, and despite some early resistance from Wellington, the Porirua side recorded an emphatic 42-21 win to move into third in the standings.
Middleton, who has been a part of the Chiefs Super 15 franchise for four years, made some telling runs.
He was crucial in set pieces and his defence, as part of a resolute Norths pack, was outstanding.
His coach, Thomas Perenara, said it was a huge boost to have Middleton back.
‘‘To have him and Rob [Aloe, first-five eighth] back has been great for us,’’ he said. ‘‘They’ve injected something at training and have that experience and enthusiasm.
‘‘Rob directed us around the park against Wellington so well.’’
For Perenara, another key player on Saturday was hooker Leni Apisai. ‘‘There’s some big wraps on him and you can see why. He’s a fantastic player and has a bright future.’’
The loss to OBU hurt his team and gave them extra motivation at training, Perenara said. Certainly the contact from Norths was fierce from the outset against Wellington.
The visitors gave a good account of themselves in the opening 40 minutes.
A try to Norths’ debutant winger Graham Upton cancelled an early Wellington penalty and then storming forward play gave tireless blindside flanker Aiden Cains a try, which made it 12-3.
Norths looked to be in again down the left sideline, but Norths second- five Konelio Feaunati’s pass was intercepted and the Axemen were back to 12-10.
A try to bustling centre Perofeta Silva and a Perry Hayman penalty gave Norths a handy 22-10 halftime lead.
The second half was one-way traffic and tries to Hayman, AJ Va’alepu and Luca Gibb made it safe.
Wellington played with plenty of heart, but Norths were too big and strong and broke their opponents’ line often. Hayman finished with 17 points.
‘‘Wellington are a good side, but we hit them hard,’’ Perenara said.
‘‘We lacked a bit of patience at times and gave a couple away, but it was a good day.
‘‘ We’re blooding some young players to this level. It’s important we have those succession plans for the good of the club.’’
Elsewhere in Hardham Cup play, Paremata-Plimmerton went down 29-17 to Poneke at Ngatitoa Domain.
Poneke were the much bigger side and it showed with their dominance in the tight.
Ryan McLean scored two tries in a solid outing for ParemataPlimmerton, who won the second half 14-10.
In Jubilee Cup action, Tawa nearly lost their fifth successive match, but came away from William Jones Park in Wainuiomata with a 19-19 draw.
Wainuiomata were up 16-0 at halftime, but tries to Jeff Makapelu, Tu Umaga- Marshall and Randall Bishop gave Tawa a vital two points for the match and keeps them in the hunt.
Willing: Norths No 8 Anthony Masina put in a strong game for Northern United against Wellington.