Northern Wairoa Bulls took their back-to-the-wall mindset into the Whangarei and Districts Rugby League minor playoffs, upsetting the form book to defeat Hokianga Pioneers 32-18 at Toll Stadium.
The Bulls coach Charlie Selkirk said the side had been playing finals football in their head for three weeks and they had carried that attitude on to the field on Saturday.
"We've known that a loss in any of our games in the past three weeks would've meant the end of our season and so the boys were up for the match right from the start," he said.
He added that after playing in mud for several weeks it was an advantage to play on the pristine Toll Stadium pitch in Whangarei and that had helped produce a memorable Bulls performance.
The sides' halves Shelford Edwards and Tahoe Kake masterminded the win. Great distribution mixed with incisive runs and a great kicking game allowed them to dominate, but Selkick said it was a great team effort that gave them the opportunity to shine - led from the front by skipper Robbie Paniora in the centres.
"They all played so well, especially at the start of the second half, so I'm really proud of them. Even the bench did everything I asked of them and more," he said.
After just getting their noses ahead 12-6 in a scrappy first spell, the Bulls pulled out all stops to outclass the Pioneers at the start of the second half with a double from Kake pushing the lead out to 22-6 before the Pioneers launched a comeback.
The Pioneers scored two tries to narrow the gap to 22-18 with 10 minutes to go, but tries to Hohepa Harding and Cruze Selkirk secured the victory for the Bulls and a date with the Tigers next weekend.
Hokianga coach Phil Marsh said the Bulls deserved their win but praised his side for their contribution to the match and a successful season.
"We had to defend for too much of the game and in the end it took its toll on us, but the boys did well to still be in the game with 10 minutes to go and they couldn't have given any more than they did," he said.
The side had struggled to get over the early injury of experienced prop Hamish Reid that seriously affected their rotation and tactics throughout the game.
"The side achieved its aim of making the playoffs for the first time in years so we're rapt with that and now the aim is to do better next year," he said.
It is the first time in several seasons that either side has made the playoffs and now the Bulls will go on to play Moerewa Tigers next week to try to reach the finals against the Hikurangi Stags in two weeks.
The minor premiers were too good for an injury-hit Tigers who lost 18-30.
Article courtesy of Northern Advocate - Reporter: Peter Thorley