Waitohi through by narrowest of margins
Story by: - Photo by: Gavin Hadfield/shuttersport
15-14: the scoreline says it all as Waitohi progress to the Marlborough Premier Final at Central's expense
Waitohi went into the match hot favourites to continue the form that won them the second round title and, after an impressive start, looked on track to win comfortably.
However, Central had other ideas, they came back strongly and Waitohi's backline rhythm and attacking potency was severely restricted when star centre Bryce Heem hobbled off the field with an ankle injury during the third quarter.
In fine but soft conditions underfoot, Waitohi drew first blood when Daniel Hawkins landed a sixth minute penalty goal. A few minutes later came the try of the match, backs and forwards combining in a sweeping move from deep defence which resulted in prop Chris Goodyer eventually burrowing over, Hawkins converting for a 10-0 lead. They had two further opportunities to increase their lead but Hawkins was astray with penalty attempts.
Central worked their way back into the match and Rawiri Tamati missed with a penalty goal attempt. A strong run by hooker Dan McPherson saw Central held up over the tryline and only stout defence from Waitohi kept the Blues out during a sustained assault on their line.
That pressure was finally rewarded near halftime. Flanker Reuben Harvey crashed over, the result of a lineout drive after Central had turned down a goal-kicking opportunity. Tamati's conversion closed the gap to 10-7 at the break.
Hawkins missed another penalty shot at goal early in the second half but Waitohi increased their lead with what turned out to be the winning try when second-five Jayden Waters scored on the back of a quickly taken tap penalty by Vernon Fredericks, the conversion attempt by Hawkins was wide.
Central came back strongly once again and with 18 minutes remaining, lock Dan Crockett scored. Loose forwards Kaleni Taetuli and Harvey made initial surges and under pressure Waitohi lost the ball over their goal-line, Crockett was the first to pounce on it and score, Tamati's conversion closing the gap to one point.
Central's inability to hold on to possession for more than two or three phases hurt them and meant they were unable to build enough pressure to score the winning points.
On the other hand Waitohi did much better at retaining the ball in close, particularly over the tense closing stages.
Waitohi will be sweating on the fitness of Heem heading into the grand final, his presence giving them so many more attacking options. To their credit the Tohis won without him in the second half, showing the determination in defence and the urgency when it counted which is needed to win titles.
Lock Daniel Karena had a fine game for Waitohi along with flanker Fredericks, hooker Keiran Gaudin and Goodyer.
For Central, flanker Harvey shone along with Kaleni, Crockett and flanker Matt Gibson, while the backline struggled to gel.
Waitohi 15 (Chris Goodyer, Jayden Waters tries, Daniel Hawkins con, pen) Central 14 (Reuben Harvey, Dan Crockett tries, Rawiri Tamati 2 con). Half-time: Waitohi 10-7