Aaron Goile [Stuff]
Defending champions Tasman have jumped to the top of the NPC Premiership standings after seeing off a spirited Northland in Whangarei on Saturday.
On returning to action following the Covid-19-enforced hiatus, the Mako have leapt ahead of Canterbury and Waikato on the ladder, now the only unbeaten team in the top division, but were made to work for their 48-29 victory at Semenoff Stadium.
In the end the visitors ran in eight tries – with doubles to Leicester Fainga’anuku and Mark Telea – but it was a commendable effort from the bottom-of-the-Championship hosts, who prior to lockdown had been hammered in both outings, by 47 and 34 points.
FIONA GOODALL/GETTY IMAGES
Leicester Fainga'anuku scored a double in Tasman’s victory over Northland in Whangarei on Saturday.
This time, at least they didn’t concede a red card. But, in a free-flowing, all-over-the-park encounter, they were far from just making up numbers, even managing to score five tries of their own, to get on the board in the competition with a bonus point.
After a seven-try first half and still in the game behind by nine, having struck right on halftime, Northland then also found the first points of the second stanza when captain Jordan Olsen burrowed his way over.
The follow-me hooker was then at it at the other end of the park, doing the almost unthinkable and hammering powerful centre Fainga’anuku backwards at a rate of knots.
Not only that, Olsen then got over the ball to win a turnover penalty. His side’s belief was palpable.
But, another impressive box kick from Tasman halfback Jack Grooby proved a momentum-turner, with it a 50/22. While the visitors didn’t profit straight away, they had already been deadly down that end of the field earlier in the contest, and proved so again as Fainga’anuku put on a big burst, then followed up to impressively finish in the left corner.
A golden shot at a comeback with a lineout inside the Mako 22m was then extinguished by a great jackal win from Anton Segner – an impressive force at the breakdown after coming on in the first spell – and all of a sudden that was transformed into a hot attack up the other end, where Telea burrowed over beside the posts.
Just like that, it was all over rover for the gallant home side who had earlier taken a surprise lead after dominating the opening exchanges.
However, it looked like floodgate-opening territory when the visitors piled on three tries in the space of 10 minutes, particularly with Fainga’anuku showing off all of his noted strength with a storming run under the posts.
Their next was somewhat fortunate, when Hunt seared down the left touch to follow up Grooby’s box kick, and in consultation with the TMO, Mike Fraser felt there was no clear and obvious indication the first-five was in front of the kicker.
Down a dozen, the hosts weren’t to be deterred, hitting straight back with their own slice of luck, when a superb score to Scott Gregory was not pulled up for what looked a certain forward pass from Rivez Reihana in the lead-up.
But Tasman’s fourth visit to the Taniwha’s 22m brought a fourth try – the TMO again called upon to check Telea managed to ground the ball in the corner despite the best efforts of halfback Sam Nock.
The Mako’s halftime lead would only be single-digits, though, as, after a team discipline warning from Fraser, 145kg prop Kaliopasi Uluilakepa crashed over on the back of a strong lineout drive to give the Taniwha’s confidence a real boost.
AT A GLANCE
Tasman 48 (Leicester Fainga’anuku 2, Mark Telea 2, Jacob Norris, Mitch Hunt, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Shannon Frizell tries; Mitch Hunt 4 con) Northland 29 (Sam Nock, Scott Gregory, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Jordan Olsen, Raikabula Momoedonu tries; Rivez Reihana con, Noah Cooper con). HT: 24-15.
Stuff MVP points: Leicester Fainga’anuku 3, Anton Segner 2, Jordan Olsen 1.