Kaierau’s kids of 2011 lead them back to Premier final
By Jared Smith
Pain barriers, four straight losses and ten years of futile endeavour – none of it mattered to Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau at Memorial Park on Saturday.
The Whanganui club did to their hosts what Byford’s Readimix Taihape have previously done to them and others by travelling to cause a seismic 16-5 upset in their Tasman Tanning Premier semifinal .
A fired up start with the wind behind them let Kaierau build a big lead, which they defended grimly through a war of attrition in the second stanza.
Having faced a host of injuries this campaign and losing their last four matches, including 24-3 to Taihape just seven days before, the visitors were transformed by the return of Ethan Robinson, Joe Edwards, Cameron Davies and Ezra Malo, opening up more attacking options outside first-five, while the forwards hit their more vaunted opposition pack with everything.
The veteran Ace Malo harnessed the conditions with some pinpoint line kicks, and when the out-of-sorts home side infringed, Robinson coolly slotted three straight penalties – purging his demons from the 2020 semifinal where he blamed his missed kicks for Kaierau’s defeat.
Up 9-0 right on halftime, Kaierau drove from a penalty lineout and Edwards drifted off the back to feed Robinson with a perfectly timed offload for the skipper to dive through and score a try he converted.
Having squandered their rare opportunities in the first half, Taihape now took the wind and also looked to the attacking corners – Dane Whale turning down a couple of kickable penalties to keep the pressure on – with No8 Ben Whale, skipper Matt Brown and the Hay-Horton brothers looking to force a way through.
But they found prop Tai Pulemagafa and flankers Cade Robinson and Josefa Rokotakala up to the task – Robinson dropping attackers with some massive hits, while hooker Jack van Bussell was very composed in the lineout, preventing Taihape from spoiling their possessions.
Keeping ball in hand, Kaierau nearly scored the decisive try but Robinson just missed reclaiming a charged down kick, then was stopped short of the line, with Kaierau pinged for going off their feet.
The visitors then lost Edwards to the sinbin, and when Malo tried to clear the ball from his own tryline in the high winds, Taihape claimed it 20m for the corner flag, exploiting their overlap from the ruck for fullback Tyler Rogers-Holden to score.
But Taihape could not find another way through as they lived in Kaierau’s half for the rest of the game – with one promising play called back for a forward pass, while winger Ryan Karatau was somehow stopped inches short, and finally a double movement right at the posts saw Kaierau clear, finishing with 14 men after reserve Matt Ashworth was also sinbinned.
The game rang long after a lengthy delay when Taihape reserve Lennox Shanks, who has a history of concussions, was knocked out in a sickening head clash with Kaierau’s Stu Brosnahan, with Shanks taken to the ambulance for observation.
Having made their first Premier final since 2011, when all but three squad members were children, the singing was loud in the Kaierau changing room.
“The boys – massive, massive courage. Finally, we put it together. Just D, D, D,” said emotional coach Carl Gibson,
“They are rapt with the opportunity [of the final]. They’ve all come back.”
It was not the script anyone in Taihape was expecting to read, but coach Tom Wells was gracious, singling out the Robinson brothers for high praise.
“Good on them, they played awesome.
“The deal was done in the first half – they come out with a bit of fire and we didn’t match it.
“We errored ourselves at the wrong end of the field.
“They’re going to have to play like that again to get close to Border.”
Kaierau 16 (E Robinson try, 3 pen, con)
bt Taihape 5 (T Rogers-Holden try)