Steelform Wanganui have completed an unbeaten Mitre 10 Heartland Championship round robin and regained the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup with a 57-27 win over Horowhenua-Kapiti.
Wanganui stormed out to a 26-3 halftime lead – in what was a rematch of last year’s Meads Cup final – with a clinical performance across the park until the visitors ran in three tries in the last 10 minutes to claim a bonus point.
Having already secured top spot with last Saturday’s win over East Coast, Wanganui now look forward to hosting Thames Valley in next week’s Meads Cup semi-final.
A trophy back in the cabinet and an unbeaten season intact is nothing to complain about.
“You’ve got to be happy with that,” coach Jason Caskey said. “We’ll have a beer and celebrate that and then get out mind on the job for next week.”
However, the last 10 minutes clearly disappointed.
“We did defend well for the majority, and then just really fell away.
“Whether the guys coming on didn’t keep the intensity where it was – it’s hard to say? But I suppose, you’re up by 57-8, mentally you think you’re job’s done and the game’s in the bag but still it takes a bit of the gloss off it when you concede late points like that.”
Wanganui took an early lead at Cooks Gardens on Saturday when flanker Angus Middleton shimmied through from close range but the visitor’s hit straight back with a James So’oialo penalty.
That was to be the visitor’s only first half points, however, as Wanganui extended their lead when Viki Tofa set himself at the back of a rolling maul to bust over the line.
The home side were as ruthless on attack as they were at the other end of the park; repelling more than 20 phases from Horowhenua-Kapiti on their own 10m line midway through the first half.
That paid dividends when Wanganui finally turned the ball over and minutes later let man-of-the-match Tyler Rogers Holden loose to step his way to the tryline from beyond the 22m.
Craig Clare sparked another wave of Wanganui attack which ended only with Horowhenua-Kapiti fullback Ethan Reti getting a yellow card for a deliberate knock down.
Another powerful shunt from the Wanganui pack from the resulting penalty got Campbell Hart over the line with Clare’s conversion extending the lead to 26-3 at halftime.
Wanganui cut loose in the second half running in five tries in the space of 22 minutes starting with halfback Lindsay Horrocks almost walking around the back of the pack and through some lacklustre Horowhenua-Kapiti defence.
Minutes later a fleet-footed Kaveni Dabenaise finished off a long range try down the left hand wing which went through the hands of Penijamini Nabainivalu, Kameli Kuruyabaki and Rogers-Holden.
It was almost a repeat in the 54th minute but this time it was Rogers Holden claiming his second.
And the from the kickoff it was Kuruyabaki’s turn, this time down the right hand wing, as Wanganui hit a half century of points and were on track to eclipse their record win over Horowhenua-Kapiti (76-8 in 2011).
But Horowhenua-Kapiti finally got in the try scoring column at the three quarter mark, through former Wanganui player Tomoci Seruwalu who ran the blindside off the back of the visitor’s pack to score in the corner.
It didn’t immediately stop the stream of Wanganui tries – Ethan Robinson, having just come on the park, snaffled some loose ball to run under the posts for the home side – but it did spark last year’s finalists into life.
Horowhenua-Kapiti scored three tries through Himioana Henare, Scott Cameron and Stewart McGregor in the final few minutes – Wanganui giving up their only bonus point of the season.
Wanganui captain Roman Tutauha said his side had set it’s sights on the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup early in the season.
“It means heaps,” he said.
“Last year we lost it and it was really disheartening because it’s a traditional thing we like to keep in the cupboard.
“We knew today we had to go to work and pull our sleeves up to try and secure it.
“We wanted to set a standard for ourselves coming into the end of the round robin – try take it a level above.”
Wanganui have not played their semi-final opponents, Thames Valley this season, which means a lot of video analysis for Caskey’s team this week.
“We’ll have to really do some homework,” he said.
“That’s the only problem when you play a team you haven’t had all year, you’re knowledge is very little.
“I suppose it makes it exciting going into a game against someone you haven’t played so, you’re on tenterhooks a bit because you don’t know what to expect.”
In the earlier curtain raiser Whanganui Maori snatched a last second 23-22 victory of Wanganui Samoa.
57 Wanganui (Angus Middleton, Viki Tofa, Tyler Roger-Holden 2, Campbell Hart, Lindsay Horrocks, Kaveni Dabenaise, Kameli Kuruyabaki, Ethan Robinson tries; Craig Clare 5 con; Dane Whale con)
27 Horowhenua Kapiti (T Seruwalu, S MacGregor, H Henara, S Cameron tries; James So’oialo 2 con, pen)
By: Zaryd Wilson
Zaryd Wilson is a reporter for the Whanganui Chronicle