Waikato fall short of up­set

Waikato Times - - SPORT - AARON GOILE

It was one heck of a con­spic­u­ous re­turn to the top flight of do­mes­tic rugby league, but Waikato ended up fall­ing just short of caus­ing a mas­sive up­set in the open­ing round of the na­tional premier­ship on Sun­day.

Hav­ing won pro­mo­tion to the top-four premier­ship di­vi­sion af­ter fea­tur­ing in the cham­pi­onship sec­tion in the first year of the re­struc­tured lo­cal com­pe­ti­tion in 2016, Waikato looked like caus­ing a boilover against de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons the Akarana Fal­cons in Hamil­ton, be­fore even­tu­ally fall­ing to a 36-28 de­feat at FMG Sta­dium Waikato.

Mor­gan Ku­tia’s team had ev­ery­one stunned when lead­ing 22-6 late in the first half, but in the end the strength of the Auck­land side shone through, as they piled on the points in the sec­ond half against a tir­ing Waikato team, who can none­the­less take plenty of con­fi­dence from their gutsy show­ing.

Guilty of a cou­ple of lit­tle er­rors early, Waikato were made to play from be­hind when Akarana opened the scor­ing in the 11th minute, as winger Corey Seator kicked for fiveeighth Jor­dan Tuarae, to score along­side the posts.

But, af­ter set­tling into their rhythm, the home side then ripped into their work in a big way, putting on four tries in a splen­did 20 min­utes.

On the quar­ter-hour mark sec­ond-rower Ta­mainu Huirama latched onto a lit­tle grub­ber from hooker Mal­colme Noda, be­fore cap­tain Aaron Jol­ley be­gan to stamp his class all over the con­test from full­back.

With a scorch­ing break up the mid­dle from in­side his own half, Jol­ley found sup­port from Noda, who then popped a ball back to the skip­per to fin­ish the 65-me­tre ef­fort which put Waikato in front.

And just a few min­utes later the hosts scored an­other stun­ner, with five-eighth Hay­den Karena forc­ing a dropout with a good chip kick, then go­ing over on the re­sult­ing set, re­ceiv­ing the ball from Noda and pro­vid­ing a su­perb no-look in­side pass to Jol­ley, who then gave it back by way of a cool back-flick.

With Noda forc­ing a re­peat set with a grub­ber, and Waikato helped up­field on sev­eral oc­ca­sions through penal­ties from ref­eree Shane Rehm, they then kicked out to a stun­ning 16-point lead five min­utes be­fore half­time as Noda sent a wellplaced ball to Huirama, who showed nice foot­work at the line and barged un­der the bar.

Akarana nabbed one back as full­back Polima Si­aki sliced through, mak­ing it 22-10 at the break, but Waikato can­celled that out less than two min­utes into the sec­ond stanza, with more Jol­ley magic, as he pro­duced a strip, then soon af­ter went on a run to the line and reached out.

How­ever, from 28-10, Waikato’s ad­van­tage quickly got mown down, as Akarana fi­nally found their way with their hardrun­ning big men, and the hosts fell off plenty of tack­les.

In­ter­change hooker Zac Tip­pins nabbed a dou­ble in the space of four min­utes, both times too strong and too clever out of dummy half.

Then it was cen­tre Fran­cis Leger and sec­ond rower Fatani Manukia on the right edge who took turns in set­ting one an­other up, with Leger grab­bing an off­load and go­ing through some soft de­fence on the hour­mark, then his sneaky in­side ball short­side play putting Manukia across in the 68th minute to give the Fal­cons the lead.

There was still time for Waikato, but they just had no sec­ond-half pos­ses­sion, field po­si­tion or en­ergy to stymie the Akarana on­slaught, and the re­sult was sealed in the 76th minute when the hosts made a mis­take at the back of a scrum near their own line, and big Sala­fuauli Falelua-Malio spun his way over.

Waikato will have the chance to build on their cred­itable firstup ef­fort when they again play at FMG Sta­dium Waikato next Sun­day, against the Can­ter­bury Bulls, who ear­lier crashed to a mis­takes-marred 28-22 loss to Coun­ties Manukau de­spite a spir­ited sec­ond half come­back in Christchurch.

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