Waikato stun Counties and make final
Waikato have stunned the Counties Manukau Stingrays and surged their way into the rugby league national premiership final, after a 32-18 last-round victory in Auckland on Saturday.
The win was Waikato’s only one of the quick fire three-round round robin, but their points differential was good enough to propel them into the decider next Saturday night at Mt Smart Stadium against defending champions the Akarana Falcons.
Having last year had to win their way up from the championship division after being placed in the second tier under the New Zealand Rugby League’s restructuring of the competition, Waikato have finally been rewarded for their endeavour, after close home losses to Akarana and the Canterbury Bulls left them facing a tough final-day scenario at The Trusts Arena.
Firstly needing Akarana to beat Canterbury at the same venue, Waikato saw that equation come through, then they had to produce the goods in a winnertake-all clash with Counties, which they did so valiantly, scoring six tries to three in a classy showing against much-more fancied opponents, who were runners-up last year.
Captain and fullback Aaron Jolley was a star yet again, and while he crossed the chalk for the third successive weekend, it was his also his set-up play which was quality, as winger Eric Taiulu prospered with a hat-trick.
Down by eight with 10 minutes to go, Counties had prime opportunity to make a late charge for victory, but a dropped ball near Waikato’s tryline proved costly, then on the back of a penalty Waikato surged down the other end and hooker Malcolme Noda burrowed over from dummy half.
That sealed a stunning victory and their spot in the decider, while for Counties Manukau it means they finish fourth and will play in the promotion/relegation match earlier next Saturday evening at Mt Smart, against Bay of Plenty, who beat Otago 26-24 in Rotorua on Saturday to take out the championship division. Waikato 32 (Eric Taiulu 3, Aaron Jolley, Reihana Tai Rakena, Malcolme Noda tries; Aaron Jolley 4 goals)
Counties Manukau 18 (David Fa’aete’ete, George Edwards, Howard Brown tries; William Stowers 3 goals).