WaiCoa Bay Stallions score dramatic win over Akarana Falcons
Last updated 19:49, September 19 2015
The WaiCoa Bay Stallions remain a genuine chance of making the National Premiership final, after securing a dramatic 28-26 win over the Akarana Falcons in Hamilton on Saturday.
Down 18-0 late in the first half at Resthills Park, the Stallions produced a superb fightback then clung on as referee Lance Bullen took centre stage late in the piece.
The Falcons produced a dominant display early on, their big men charging strongly and the Stallions guilty of sitting on their heels.
The visitors opened the scoring in the 11th minute, and by the 35th had their fourth try in what looked a one-sided contest.
But, crucially, the Stallions managed to find points before the half was out, with winger Victor Karora-Reu finishing in the corner, as the home side made the most of Falcons halfback Afatasi Collins being down injured.
That shot the Stallions to life, and with Karora-Reu's brother Tamatoa, at centre, and five-eighth Malcolme Noda combining well, they were headed to the line again, before a high tackle stopped the progress and had Stallions halfback and captain Hayden Karena knocking over the penalty to send his team to halftime at a more manageable 18-6.
Needing to be the first to score in the second stanza, the Stallions did better than that, with Tamatoa Karora-Reu bagging two in three minutes to narrow the margin to two. There was a dubious looking pass in the lead-up to the first one, before Karora-Reu burst through the tackle of Falcons winger Morgan Timoti-Cook, while his next four-pointer was set up by a nice break from his brother, who gave to fullback Vinnie Morunga, before Karora-Reu made a brilliant 30-metre dash to the corner.
But as soon as the Stallions looked to take control, the Falcons hit back, with winger Corey Seator going over for the simplest of finishes to collect his hat-trick.
Cue another Stallions double-shot, with two tries in four minutes.
The first was an absolute pearler, with Karena chipping over the top on the last tackle and the bounce going to Noda, who gave a sensational no-look pass back inside for Karena to scoot round the cover defence and then convert to level the scores.
Then, as the Falcons defence began to get a bit lazy, the ball was kept alive and Victor Karora-Reu broke down the left-hand touch, gave to his brother, who gave him an awkward ball back, which he managed to collect to put the Stallions in front with 17 minutes to play.
More points looked to be coming after lock Nick Read broke upfield and gave for Noda, but Falcons centre Faleapa Rome collected him, before giving away a penalty for stripping out the ball.
Up 28-22 with 11 minutes left, the Stallions opted for the posts, but Karena missed from a handy angle. The ball went dead and a 20m dropout should have taken place, but referee Bullen ordered a 20m tap for the Falcons, much to the confusion and ire of Stallions players, management, and the faithful on the bank.
Bullen hadn't impressed as a referee in the club season, was a surprise appointment for the Premiership competition and appeared out of his depth.
The worst-case scenario unfolded as the Falcons powered up-field and second rower Taylor Daniels scored. With a fifth conversion missed, the Falcons still trailed by two with eight minutes left.
The visitors then twice looked like they had snatched the game. Timoti-Cook flew high and grounded the ball but for Bullen to blow a penalty for offside, then in the final minute Seator crossed in the left corner and got up fist-pumping, before Bullen consulted with touch judge Nick Gibson and a forward pass was ruled.
The Stallions played out the final few seconds before the hooter sparked scenes of celebration.
Coach Tony Lajpold was "rapt" his side came out on top, after the refereeing blunder nearly cost them.
"We should never have been in that situation," he said.
"I will mention it to New Zealand Rugby League. In all reality, that could have cost us."
Lajpold felt his side were 20 points better than Akarana, but accepted that was "the beauty but also the enigma" of the team he was dealing with, before putting it on his players at halftime.
"We just said it's unacceptable, you're playing representative football and you're not playing like representative footballers."
AT A GLANCE
WaiCoa Bay Stallions 28
(Victor Karora-Reu 2, Tamatoa Karora-Reu 2, Hayden Karena tries; Karena 4 goals) Akarana Falcons 26
(Corey Seator 3, Faleapa Rome, Morgan Timoti-Cook, Taylor Daniels tries; Zensei Inu goal). HT: 6-18.