From international man of mystery, Tighthead Ted

The sun was shining, the crowds turned out, and some entertaining rugby was played as the four semifinalists clashed a week out from doing it again in knock out games. Positions were confirmed at the end of the 80 minutes, with Waihi to host Waihou, and Paeroa to welcome the fast-finishing Whangamata side. Both Whangamata and Waihi won this week scoring after the hooter – let’s hope next week’s matches can live up to the billing. Thames travelled to Mercury Bay for those teams final hit outs of the season, and a massive crowd were also entertained to some great rugby.

Kenny St Stadium, Waihi. Referee: S Watts

A large crowd were treated to a match that would not have disappointed as a final, and in a fortnights time, could be repeated, as the McClinchy Cup Final showdown. Waihou and Whangamata will have something to say about that in next week’s semifinals, but on form, a repeat is in the offing.

After an early exchange of penalties, Paeroa landing the first vie the boot of Nathan Emery, then Waihi a couple via Quinn Collard, the match swung Waihi’s way. Paeroa started to wilt under the constant pressure as wave after wave of forward runners dented their defence, and finally captain Brett Ranga crashed over after a strong Isaac Seiuli run off the back of a scrum. Paeroa compounded this lapse from the kickoff, when they shelled a return bomb off Waihi’s Collard, only for Waihi wing Petoru Pouri-Lane to gather and scamper 50 metres to score in the corner. Paeroa were looking in all sorts of bother at this stage, but Waihi couldn’t crack the visitors again, and in fact the Green Machine were unlucky not to add to their score prior to halftime after securing some rare attacking possession late in the half.

A scoreline of 18-3 at half and the game looked gone, but Paeroa regathered their composure at halftime, ran on some subs, and from the kickoff, charged down the Collard attempted clearing kick for a converted try – 18-3 became 18-10 in the blink of an eye, and it was game on. Paeroa kept hammering away, with big flanker Silao Talimao and number eight Oneone Faafou leading the comeback. Shortly after in a brief visit to the Paeroa half, Collard landed another penalty to extend the lead again – 21-10.

Then the try of the match, from a messy Paeroa lineout slapback, Faafou tidied up the loose ball, and from 30 metres out burst through the Waihi close in tackle line before turbo-charging to the tryline. A regulation conversion to Emery, and 17-21, and again the visitors looking set to take control. Waihi did not panic though, they kept to their patterns, and earned another penalty in Collard’s range, and the lead extended to seven points once again.

With twenty minutes to go, the game became an arm wrestle, Paeroa perhaps on top, Waihi holding strong though, and doing enough to keep the visitors at Bay.

Something had to crack though, and finally it did, another Collard kick was charged down, and Faafou dotted down for his second five pointer. Not after more drama though, with the referee and two assistants conferring before the try awarded. Emery shaved the posts, but duly converted the try for 24 each.

Four minutes to go, and Waihi stormed back onto attack, shaken out of their slumber, some big charges from fresh players saw Paeroa pushed back to their line and finally they were cracked open again, the ball swung wide for Ethan Seymour to clinch the match in spectacular fashion. Collard put the icing on the cake, slotting the conversion from the sideline, final score 31-24.

Many players stood out for both teams in this exciting match. Waihi’s loose trio Ranga, Axtens and Seiuli, were impressive as always, huge defence along with uncompromising ball carrying seeing them stand tall. Dylan Horne at lock again tireless in defence, as was his locking partner Ben Mellow. Halfback Asher Delany took advantage of the many gaps caused by his hard running forwards, and the midfield of Bower and Craig-Ranga was always a threat.

Paeroa after an at times lackluster first forty sprang into life in the second. Halfback Harry Warren added some spark and accuracy to the clearance from rucks and mauls, and the Paeroa backs loved the extra space. Beazley and Malielegaoi made some nice breaks in the second spell, and Faafou was unstoppable at times with ball in hand as he led the comeback.

Waihi 31 (B Ranga, P Pouri-Lane, E Seymour tries; Q Collard 2 conversions, 4 penalties) beat Paeroa 24 (O Faafou 2, T Malielegaoi tries; N Emery 3 conversions, penalty).

Boyd Park, Te Aroha. Referee: D Tui

With both teams qualified for next week’s semi-finals, and the result of this match moot, what could have turned into a nothing match became a cliffhanger, decided with a try to Whangamata’s Jake Barfoot in the 80th minute. But not the final act of the match, referee Dali Tui deeming time enough for a kickoff to add more drama to a topsy turvy fixture!

It was all action over the opening minutes, with two tries each, a yellow card and a scoreline of 14-12 to the home team. The match developed into a bit of slug fest through the middle portions of the game – both sides trying hard but being unable to break through some solid defence. Whangamata finally broke the deadlock with prop Brad Laurenson crashing over from in close to put the visitors ahead 21-14. A try in injury time to first five Ben Clarke then saw Whangamata go into the break with a handy 26-14 lead.

Waihou rang the changes at halftime and hit the ground running – a try to hard working second rower Tim Erceg, followed by a five pointer to Todd Doolan saw the hometown heroes claw back to tie the match up 26-26 after just five minutes. A TJ Wise penalty, from one of the sixteen conceded by Waihou saw the red ‘n’ white sneak back in front 29-26 with a half hour still showing on the scoreboard. The lead changed again after Todd Doolan scored, and with a quarter of the match to go Waihou led 33-29.

Whangamata then set up camp in the Waihou twenty-two, and launched attack after attack, only for the home team to repel the threats time and time again. In a final quarter that was almost a replay of the 2023 McClinchy final, Whangamata, after showing great patience, and about three thousand pick and goes, cracked the Waihou defence for the match winner, eighty minutes showing on the clock.

So in what was really a dead rubber, both teams managed to get through relatively unscathed. Although Whangamata looks to have lost hard working lock Ben Laurie to a knee injury which is a shame as the young tyro has been going great guns over the last month.

Standing up and being counted for Waihou were their solid second row pairing of try scorer Tim Erceg and Caleb Hazelton, reserve lock Todd Arnold, and hooker Scotty Day also off the bench. The backline were well served by hard charging Chad Bracey, moving into the twelve jersey this week, Adam Ratcliffe, Todd Doolan, and also off the pine this week, Jake O’Connor, getting back into the form that saw him make the Valley Heartland squad in 2023.

Whangamata’s loose trio were again outstanding, Topou Tonga from number eight was hard to stop, Jacob Chaplin a menace over the ball, and Barfoot a constant menace on attack and defence. TJ Wise at halfback, back from injury was a constant menace with many powerful breaks, unfortunately Whangamata unable to capitalise on many of these. Sonny Rau also continued his fine form on the wing, always a handful for the defence, and putting in some solid stops himself on defence.

Next week Whangamata are away to Paeroa in one Semifinal, facing Paeroa who beat them 38-15, while Waihou are away to Waihi, on the back of two losses to the only undefeated team in the 2024 Premiership.

Waihou 33 (C Bracey, T Doolan, T Erceg, J O’Connor 2 tries; A Ratcliffe 4 conversions) lost to Whangamata 36 (E Byles, T Tonga, B Laurenson, B Clarke, J Barfoot tries; TJ Wise 4 conversions, penalty).

Lyon Park, Whitianga.

If this had been a boxing match, It would have been the Thames heavyweight champion taking on the welterweight division champ. When Thames could get the Bay side in close, they landed some big blows, with their forwards winning the close quarter combat phases. However, when Mercury Bay had possession, and moved the ball wider, their pace and accuracy proved too much for the bigger pack.

Thames started the match well, putting pressure onto the home side, and it looked ominous for the home side. However, once Mercury Bay started moving the ball wider from breakdowns and the game opened up the writing was on the wall for the visitors. Connor McAuley at halfback had a field day, cutting open the Thames defence at will as the match progressed, and was rewarded with three tries. Owain Leeming and winger Colville Green were also prominent.

Thames were led by number eight Laulea Mau, who also scored a fine try. He was backed up by fellow forwards Tate Payze and try scoring machine Corbin Saunders. Saunders, after Thames reached out to Ali Williams for a counselling session, put away his kicking boots this week and concentrated on doing what he does so well, running the ball forward with venom, and knocking ball carriers over.

Mercury Bay 43 (C Green, L Lipa, A Clague, C McAuley 3 tries; C Curran 5 conversions, penalty) beat Thames 24 (C Duffin, PJ McLean, L Mau C Saunders try; M Murphy 2 conversions).

COBRAS 17 beat Whangamata 16
Coromandel 54 beat Waihi 12
Waihou the bye

North 22 beat Thames 14
Ngatea WBD v Mercury Bay

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