Waikato capped their centennial season by claiming their third Bunnings National Provincial Championship Premiership title by beating Tasman 23-20 in Hamilton on Saturday night.
It capped a 15-year drought for Waikato, who won the inaugural NPC final in 1992 and repeated the effort in 2006.
Taranaki won their first title since 2014 when forcing Otago to play catch-up from early in the first half of the Bunnings Championship final. Otago tried but still couldn’t find a reward for making their fourth final since their 1998 win and were well beaten in glorious conditions in Inglewood.
Bunnings Premiership Final
Waikato 23 Tasman 20
Waikato made all the running in the first quarter but only had a D’Angelo Leuila penalty goal to show for it. When Tasman halfback Louie Chapman ran amok on the blindside, he created a chance that wing Regan Ware wasted no time in using his speed to run in the try. Tasman looked to build on that only to be undone by a poor pass from first five-eighths Mitch Hunt, who, like centre Leicester Fainga’anuku, was given the Waikato defensive treatment all night. It paid off as the pass that went to land, not hand, was picked up by Waikato centre Bailyn Sullivan who ran 60m to continue the ‘against-the-run-of play’ theme that marked the first half. Leuila’s second penalty goal gave Waikato the halftime lead of 13-10. Seven minutes into the second half, second five-eighths Alex Nankiville couldn’t clear his pass accurately, and Sullivan was hovering again to pick up the ball and run 40m for his second try. Lock Quinten Strange responded in the 66th minute when the Tasman bench looked to make an impact. Replacement centre Levi Aumua made a stunning break to let the forwards build through phase play.
and it was Strange who probed a gap to force his way over. But, Waikato reclaimed the lead with a penalty goal to replacement five-eighths Fletcher Smith, and while a late penalty close to their line gave Tasman a sniff, they were undone by a lineout throw that went awry to allow Waikato to kick the ball out to secure their third NPC championship win.
Waikato 23 (Bailyn Sullivan 2 tries; D’Angelo Leuila 2 con, 2 pen; Fletcher Smith pen)
Tasman 20 (Regan Ware, Quinten Strange tries; Mitch Hunt 2 con, 2 pen)
Bunnings Championship Final
Taranaki 32 Otago 19
Taranaki made a superb start to the final as No8 PitaGus Sowakula showed his class with ball in hand to set up his outsides, and when first five-eighths Jayson Potroz found himself on the right flank, he cut inside and then sent a pass to prop Jared Profitt who scored in the corner. But if that stunned Otago, they didn’t let it upset them as lock Josh Hill charged down an attempted goal-line clearance by fullback Stephen Perofeta and caught the rebounding ball to score. In the 18th minute, centre Daniel Waite took the ball to the line, and in the tackle, it was moved infield before it came back left, where Sowakula gave wing Kini Naholo the ball with room to move. He had flanker Tom Florence in support. Running hard into the tackle, he passed out allowing Waite to run down the sideline to score. In the 32nd minute, Otago first five-eighths, Josh Ioane used momentum created by No8 Christian Leo-Wille’s strong burst to take a gap on the short side and then flick the ball inside where wing Vilimoni Koroi finished the business. Just before halftime, Taranaki capitalised on Naholo’s strong run from the blindside wing into midfield and, with the ball moving right, it was lock Mickey Wooliams who was on hand to score. Two minutes into the second half, Sowakula combined with wing Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens to give Taranaki momentum down the right flank before the ball was moved across the field. First five-eighths Jayson Potroz stepped halfway through a gap to pass to second five-eighths Teihorangi Walden. He kicked ahead, and it was Naholo who was unchallenged to sprint to the line and touch down. Moments after Potroz was sin-binned for a professional foul, Otago packed a scrum in front of the posts. Ioane charged onto the ball and powered his way over the line. Perofeta capped an outstanding season for the side by ending with 172 points – his first century of points for the province.
Taranaki 32 (Jared Profitt, Daniel Waite, Mickey Wooliams, Kini Naholo tries; Stephen Perofeta 2 con, 2 pen)
Otago 19 (Josh Hill, Vilimoni Koroi, Josh Ioane tries; Ioane 2 con)