Canterbury, Counties in FPC final
Canterbury will host the Counties Manukau Heat in the final of the Farah Palmer Cup Premiership, after they both won their semifinals on Saturday.
In the Championship, the Wellington Pride will host the Otago Spirit, after they beat the North Harbour Hibiscus and Hawke’s Bay Tuis respectively.
The winner of that match will be promoted to the Premiership next year, replacing the Auckland Storm, who were beaten 25-22 by the Bay of Plenty Volcanix in the relegation playoff.
While Canterbury led from start to finish in their 31-12 win over Manawatu¯ in Christchurch, Counties had to come from behind to get up 24-14 over Waikato in Hamilton.
Halfback Ariana Bayler put the hosts up inside five minutes at Waikato Stadium, sniping down the blindside from a ruck five metres out, and they took a 14-0 lead into the break after wing Ana Marsters made the most of an overlap out wide. Chelsea Alley kicked both conversions.
Waikato had been the dominant side in the first half, but they were shut out of the game in the second, as Counties scored 24 unanswered points to book their place in the decider.
Their captain, Arihiana Marino-tauhinu, got things going when she pounced on a Waikato handling error near their own line nine minutes into the second spell, then converted her own try.
The scores were level just after the hour mark, when prop Aotearoa Matau crashed over.
No 8 Aroha Savage put Counties ahead three minutes later, with Marino-tauhinu kicking a penalty to go with her three conversions that gave them some breathing space.
Next week’s final in Christchurch will be a rematch of last year’s, which Canterbury won 13-7. Jesse Bromwich completed his redemption from last year’s cocaine scandal in the Kiwis’ remarkable 26-24 win over the Kangaroos on Saturday night.
The former Kiwis captain, who was stripped of that title and stood down from last year’s disastrous World Cup, was outstanding in his first game back.
It had been an emotional week for the 29-year-old, who only joined with the Kiwis midweek, once doctors in Melbourne gave his new-born son the all clear, following a premature birth.
He then had to focus on playing for the Kiwis again and deal with the occasion of coming back from one of the lowest points of his life, when he and fellow Kiwis forward Kevin Proctor were caught attempting to buy cocaine, following last year’s Anzac test in Canberra.
‘‘It was great,’’ Bromwich said of being back in the Kiwis.
‘‘I was a bit emotional at the start and I’m just happy to be back.
‘‘I’m proud of the boys, how they’ve gone about their business, and how they’ve welcomed me back in.’’
Bromwich always felt he’d be able to get back in the Kiwis again and the new coach, Michael Maguire, made it clear to him he was part of his plans, and there would be no more repercussions.
‘‘There were some dark days, but I spoke to Madge (Maguire) quite a lot before the Denver test,’’ he said.
‘‘So I knew I was always a chance, because Madge was talking to me at length about which direction he wanted to go.
‘‘So I’m grateful for the opportunity and I can’t thank him enough.’’
Although Bromwich is one of the older faces in the Kiwis, there’s the feeling that Saturday night’s test was the beginning of a new era for the team, and under Maguire they’ll return to their former glories.
‘‘We definitely want to turn things around for New Zealand Rugby League, we want to be good role models, we want to be playing good football and getting New Zealand back into rugby league.’’
Bromwich was full of praise for the two Kiwis who made their debuts in the test, Brandon Smith and Joseph Manu, who both scored tries.
‘‘Joey had a great game,’’ Bromwich said.
‘‘I’m really proud of the way he went about his business and it was very professional for a young kid.
‘‘Another one, Brandon Smith, went out there, he’s not used to playing long minutes, but I’m very proud of him. I’m great mates with him, he’s at my club in Melbourne.’’
Australia did get too close to comfort as they pulled back from being down 26-12 with 13 minutes to go, trailing by just two points in the final three minutes.
‘‘For them to get within two points was quite nerve-wracking.
‘‘I’m proud of the boys because we stuck it out to the end.’’