Country smash Town
Story by: Jonathan McKoeown - Nelson Mail - Photo by: Evan Barnes / Shuttersport
A customary Country charge in the second half saw the boys from the sticks take out the 2012 ProRugby League Town-Country Origin series 2-1, scoring eight tries to beat their city counterparts 38-14 in the decider at Tahunanui on Saturday.
Country over-ran their opposition in the final 25 minutes, but not before Town's stampeding forwards gave their side a well-earned lead on the back of some rollicking runs.
Yet Town's ferocity in attack was not matched in defence and when Country hit the front midway through the second half, Town's defensive line was a turnstile.
When Town got their hands on the ball the force of their big runners was irresistible. Loto Pilo, James Vailanu, James Piukala and Joe Yalayala made ground at will. Country stood up to the one-off runners with courage, but more times than not they got put on their backsides.
With Country mistakes prevalent and the Town forwards dominant, the city side should have got more reward. Having a man sent to the bin for not having a mouthguard was an avoidable offence that cost an advantage.
The other reason Town didn't capitalise on field position and possession was Country's rush defence on the edges, a well thought-out strategy the players executed with precision.
Piukala took the direct route to cross for Town's opening try after a Country handling error on tackle zero gave Town a gilt-edge opportunity with a set 20m out. Their lead was cut not long after as Country wing Kaiapa Paul crossed in the left-hand corner, Town led 6-4 at halftime.
Town started the second half like the first and on the back of a bustling 20m run and a second carry from Vailanu, Symon Duncan skipped around his defender to extend their lead to 10-4.
A third Town try was ruled out due to an offload being called forward but by this stage they were making all the running. Five minutes later Freedom Walker did have Town's third after putting on a couple of steps close to the line.
A piece of individual brilliance from centre Lucas Bennett inspired a Country comeback that wouldn't end until the final whistle as they scored seven tries and 34 unanswered points in just over 20 minutes.
Taking the ball just on his side of halfway, Bennett's angled run and footwork just before the contact saw him breeze through the defensive line and put on the pace to out-run the sweeper, and Country were back in the contest.
From the restart Callum Smith was very nearly through the line again, but at the end of the set halfback Yane Teinakore crossed after a simple show and go. Town were still putting in some bullocking runs but were rubbish without the ball, Smith crossing for Country on the end of a short ball.
To exemplify the lack of resolve in Town's defence Sam Hedges scored when no player should. The re-start of play following a penalty is the most telegraphed run in rugby league. A pass from the sideline, a tap then a charge, everyone on the park knows it's coming, but Hedges just went straight through and over the line like someone opened a door.
From there two of the most popular tries were scored by new Tasman Titans Shannon Telfar and Harry Salton, before the final whistle ended Town's pain.
Along with Telfar and Salton from the Richmond Rabbits, the two other players added to the Tasman Titans squad are Te Atawhai Meechang (Tahuna Tigers) and lone Wairau Taniwha Ngatote Samuels. Lucas Bennett was named Country's player of the series.
After Town took the inaugural Origin series 3-0 in 2011, Country's triumph in the second edition is thanks in no small part to the contribution of Tasman Rugby League's reigning premiers, the Richmond Rabbits. A resurgent Wanderers Wolves also played a big part, including coach Joe Kiriona.
"We got that win behind a lot of good forward work and making some big tackles and absorbing their pressure," said Kiriona.
"Cam Salton was strong at the back for us before he got injured and due to injuries our two forwards Hoani Takao and Tamaio Piripi played a lot more minutes than they should have."
Town coach George Waite said he was "utterly disappointed".
"I take my hat off to Country, I've got full respect for them. I knew at halftime they were going to step it up a level and our boys just didn't match it, that's all there was to it.
"They've always picked up in that second half . . . if that's what they can bring to the Titans then we're looking at a real awesome season."