Steelform Wanganui’s trip to Ruatoria proved no great shakes as they maintained their 74 point scoring average by thrashing Ngati Porou East Coast on Saturday.
Retaining top spot on the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship table with their 74-8 victory, again scoring 10 tries to one, Wanganui kept the ball in hand to out-run their tiring opposition, and had swept out to a 68-8 advantage early in the final quarter.
By their eighth try, every player who was handling in the movement was able to break through at least one tackler in one-on-one challenges, while on the rare occassions the hosts got the ball they were indecisive with harmless attacking kicks and lost possession in contact.
Things were a little more scrappy at the end of the game with Wanganui happy to chance their arm with some risky passes.
The competition for running the cutter is getting keener by the game as Dane Whale was his consistent self, before returning Irishman Steve Crosbie came on and was eager to make up for lost time by taking on the line, throwing some big cut out passes and landing his three conversion attempts.
Yet both of them may be trying to hold off cult favourite prop Viki Tofa, who had an outstanding match from the first whistle to last, relishing the open play to run with the ball in each hand and show off his clever distribution skills amongst the backs.
If giant lock Gavin Thornbury was feeling sore after rolling his ankle in the midday warmup, he certainly didn’t show it with a typical barnstorming match, while partner Campbell Hart tore through defenders in the latter stages.
Both wingers reaped the reward as Simon Dibben and Te Rangitira Waitokia each scored twice – Waitokia being lethal out wide as he made his marker in former NZ Heartland Under 19 player Jayden Milner a non-factor.
Best for the home side was fullback Kris Palmer, who as expected had lot of work to do trying to keep his team out of danger.
Wanganui coach Jason Caskey said the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked the East Cape on Friday morning did not cause any disruptions to the team’s travel to Ruatoria.
Having shook up the home side themselves, the coach will remind his squad to stick to structure, as pushing passes in the final quarter turned the attacking spectacle into procession of scrums.
“We probably left 20 points out there in that last 20 minutes.”
Caskey praised Tofa’s big match.
“He’s a pretty skillful little player, old Viki. Loves to get involved using his passing game, and did the 80 [minutes].”
The dynamic speedster Waitokia continued to shine even after the switch from fullback to winger, with the local commentators on the internet live-stream labelling him the “dangerman”.
However the exhuberance of youth still saw several promising breaks come unstuck with a risky pass or turnover in the tackle.
“Definitally got a few things to improve,” said Caskey.
“His ability to attack [is great] – it’s just taking the right options.
“We’ll keep working with him.”
East Coast were overly encouraged that attacking kicks could work as Wanganui made a stuttering start and lost possession, then from the 10m scrum first-five Todd Doolan made an inside pass to winger BJ Sidney to flash over under the posts.
But the home side soon succumbed to pressure in their half and spilled the ball, with Wanganui putting it through the hands to send Dibben over in the corner.
Tofa was feeding runners all around him, and although East Coast turned the ball over, second-five Tane McGuire was charged down by his Wanganui marker Kameli Kuruyabaki, who regathered to score.
Getting a penalty lineout, Wanganui’s forwards set for their signature drive and although hooker and captain Cole Baldwin had defending players collapsing at this feet, he reached through them to place the ball down for 22-8.
Waitokia was threatening but pushed out near the line, only for the forwards to steal the lineout and earn a penalty, and following No8 Bryn Hudson going close to the line, the ball went through the hands and flanker Tremaine Gilbert dived over.
Wanganui got their fifth try when Thornbury claimed the lineout on the line and didn’t even need anyone to push him over the chalk.
The onslaught continued straight after resumption as East Coast lost the kickoff, with Thornbury and Tofa playing like a midfield combination to set Waitokia free out wide to sprint away from his pursuers.
A set move in Wanganui’s half put Kuruyabaki on the bust, then halfback Kane Tamou slipped a tackler coming through the ruck and sprang up to dash through the cut, finding Dibben out wide to race to the line.
But if that try looked good, the next was spectacular as Crosbie injected himself with a long pass for centre Craig Clare to find Waitokia, who fended off the despairing Doolan and stepped through Palmer like he wasn’t there to score a 65m beauty.
Hart continued to make inroads up the centre of the park, as Tofa, Thornbury, flanker Jamie Hughes and Hudson all handled for Claire to wrong foot the last defender and score.
Waitokia chased his chip kick and earned Wanganui a penalty, then he took the long pass from Crosbie in the backline and sent his own floater to Dibben, who popped the ball to fullback Ace Malo to sell the shattered defenders a big dummy and waltz over for the tenth try.
Wanganui 74 (Simon Dibben 2, Te Rangitira Waitokia 2, Kameli Kuruyabaki, Cole Baldwin, Tremaine Gilbert, Gavin Thornbury, Craig Clare, Ace Malo tries; Dane Whale 4 con, Steve Crosbie 3 con) bt East Coast 8 (BJ Sidney try; Todd Dolan con). HT: 36-8.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle