By Rotorua Daily Post – David Beck

Many considered the Ngongotaha Chiefs to be underdogs against the table-topping Mangakino Hawks on Saturday, but they clearly did not get the memo. Ngongotaha produced a near flawless performance to beat Mangakino 34-10 in the grand final at Puketawhero Park and claim the 2018 Bay of Plenty/Coastline Premier Rugby League title.

It was a heartbreaking result for a Mangakino side who had been the competition front-runners throughout but fell at the final hurdle. The grand final day tone was set earlier when Tauhara Te Maunga and Taneatua played out a hard-fought reserve grade final, with Tauhara Te Maunga coming out 24-18 winners. In the Premier final, Mangakino started strongly, taking a 4-0 lead in the first five minutes through a try to winger Aaron Bell in the right-hand corner. However, Ngongotaha¯ hit straight back after a Mangakino knock-on in their own 20m. They shifted the ball left early in the set and caught Mangakino napping as winger Karl Hart strolled over in the corner. The try was converted and Ngongotaha led 6-4.

Fifteen minutes into the game Ngongotaha were in again. On the back of a Mangakino error and a penalty, Matthew Filipo showed great strength to crash over from close range. Ngongotaha extended the lead to 16-4 through a try to Chris Hodgson in the 20th minute and there was a real feeling around Puketawhero that it could be their day. When defending a lead, game management is crucial and Ngongotaha‘s playmakers were nailing that aspect of the game — kicking for the corners, pinning Mangakino down their own end or forcing repeat sets.

The pressure paid off when Max Redstone scored from close range to make it 20-4. With minutes left before halftime, Mangakino looked to shift the ball from inside their own half, but it went to ground. Ngongotaha‘s Hart was quickest to react, scooping up the loose ball and racing away to score his second try, under the posts. It was converted and Ngongotaha had a commanding 26-4 lead at the break. While it was a handy lead, Mangakino were top of the table during the regular season for a reason and nobody was ruling out a comeback. However, it was Ngongotaha who added to their lead 10 minutes into the second half through a perfectly executed chip to the right wing from Destry Tamai. Centre Aaron Waiapu leapt to tap the ball back, straight into the arms of Courtney Marster who dived over to make it 30-4. Mangakino hit back with a try to front rower Roderick Boreham, who skittled defenders on his way to the line. The try was converted and the deficit reduced to 30-10. Mangakino looked to get themselves back in the game through physicality, producing some monster hits in defence, but Ngongotaha took the wind out of their sails with a try to Joseph Nuku, sealing a memorable win.

Ngongotaha were beaten three times by Mangakino during the season, but coach Paul Nahu said he knew his side had the potential to cause an upset. “I thought it was a great performance, I knew we had it in us and that’s what we’ve been searching for all year. At the end of the day there’s one game that counts and it was today — you can take a loss or two during the season, as long as you know you can improve and do something like that today.” Nahu knows better than anyone how hard his players worked to get to this point. “I’m a pretty grumpy coach and I have high expectations, they realise that and they’ve worked hard. I’m really, really happy for them,” he said.

While bitterly disappointed, Mangakino captain Johnson Peri was gracious in defeat, saying he was proud of what his team had achieved this season. “It was a good tough game, Ngongotaha just wanted it more I guess, and they were the better team on the day. I’m definitely proud of this team, it’s been a wicked season for us. “Coming from the [Bay of Plenty] Nines and into this competition, it all rolled into place for us, we just couldn’t get over that last hurdle.