Panthers secure grand final berth
Hornby have built their 2017 campaign on blistering attack, but it was their best defensive effort of the season that booked the first spot in the Canterbury Rugby League premiership grand final.
The Hornby Panthers celebrated a 22-14 victory over minor premiership winners Linwood at Kaiapoi’s Murphy Park on Saturday.
Hornby led the Keas 12-4 at halftime and repelled the defending champions’ comeback bid courtesy of some outstanding goal-line resistance in the second stanza.
‘‘The boys put a lot of work in to prepare for Linwood and they turned up with a massive defensive effort today,’’ Panthers coach Jed Lawrie said.
‘‘We had a few guys out on their feet and they just kept turning up. You can’t ask for anything more than that.’’
Lawrie also said the Panthers would relish the fortnight’s break as they look to clinch their first title since 2013.
‘‘Last year not having that week off and playing those tough games against Linwood and Papanui hurt us [in the grand final], so we probably needed this to have a good rest.’’
The Panthers raced to an early 12-0 advantage via two flashes of brilliance from fullback Dene Grace, who broke the Keas’ line to set up wonderful tries for fiveeighth Sean Spooner and winger Christian Eric.
A pair of tries either side of the break to diminutive Linwood winger Ben McIvor trimmed the deficit to four points, before veteran hooker Corey Lawrie responded from close range for the Panthers.
Keas prop Alex Todd pounced on a grubber to set up an 18-14 scoreline, but a barnstorming solo try to Panthers wing powerhouse Tauvale Tauvale restored the eight-point lead and their commitment on the other side of the ball closed out the result.
Five-eighth Toi Sepuloni was superb for the Keas, but a superior performance from the Panthers’ forward pack ended their arch rivals’ 13-match winning streak.
If Linwood is to force a grand final rematch with the Panthers they will have to overcome Papanui Tigers, who eliminated a gallant Celebration Lions outfit 32-24 in the first match of the semifinal double-header in Kaiapoi.
The Tigers dominated the first half to build an 18-4 lead, but the Lions launched a withering comeback after the interval, closing to within four points on three occasions.
Lions backs Taniela Leka and Muipu Nati scored breathtaking tries as the underdogs rallied repeatedly, but it was Tigers halfback Izic Placid’s six-from-six effort with the boot that proved the difference after the high-scoring thriller finished five tries apiece.
Papanui coach Shane Endacott admitted his side cannot afford similar concentration lapses if they are to upset Linwood in next week’s preliminary final.
‘‘I thought at halftime we would have made it a bit easier for ourselves but full credit to Celebration, they came back and turned it into a real fight,’’ Endacott said.
‘‘At this time of the season you’ve got to get into those armwrestles and protect your lead, so it is a bit of a concern [that we clocked off].
‘‘We haven’t scored a point against Linwood this year, but we all know defence wins finals so we’ll keep working on that.’’
The Hornby Pathers defensive doggedness paved the way for a place in the grand final in a fortnight.