Panthers se­cure grand fi­nal berth

The Press - - Sport - WILL EVANS

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.

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