Bay of Plenty have become the fifth different winner of the Graham Mourie Cup in as many years, dramatically defeating Canterbury 35-30.
The dying stages of the match categorially illustrated how sought-after this title has become.
Bay of Plenty was ahead 27-23 with eight minutes remaining. The Junior Steamers put together 17 phases and earned a penalty which fullback Kaleb Trask failed to kick.
Bay of Plenty re-entered Canterbury’s 22 and with three minutes left Trask bounced a penalty shot off the posts to expand the lead to 30-23.
Canterbury kicked off and Trask went from hero to villain. His attempted clearance was charged down by reserve flanker Josh Bosker who snaffled and lumbered deep into the Bay of Plenty 22 – offloading in the grasp of a tackle to replacement halfback Connor McManus who finished. First-five Fergus Burke kicked the conversion and it was 30-30.
With a minute to go Canterbury secured the Bay of Plenty kick off and directed their attack right. No.8 Matthew Letoga received just outside the 22 and tried to link with a winger on his outside. Bay of Plenty wing Jayjay Suemai was alert and poached an intercept to trigger senses of delirium.
It was a harsh climax for Letoga, one of Canterbury’s most influential.
Canterbury led 13-8 halftime. Burke opened the scoring following a dozen phases only for Trask to tie the scores after ten minutes.
A swift switch from halfback Luke Donaldson to excellent flanker Cullen Grace resulted in a hole and the first try of proceedings. Burke’s conversion made it 10-3 to Canterbury.
Burke had two further chances to score for Canterbury and was successful with one penalty as Canterbury established their largest lead of the match.
A pivotal moment was to occur just before the interval when Trask pushed aside a meek Burns Mills tackle to half the deficit.
Bay of Plenty right wing Emoni Nawara was a hero in the second-half, playing a hand all three tries.
After strong led up running by front rowers Mafi Fifita, Miracle Lolofie and Jonas Pomare, Nawara made the last pass for openside Kohan Herbert as the Junior Steamers levelled the scores.
Ahead 15-13, Nawara then fended off three players at halfway and delivered another back hander for first-five Cole Forbes.
In the 45th minute Burke’s longest success made it 20-16, but the threat of Nawara loomed large.
In the 52nd minute, Bay of Plenty halfback Leroy Carter managed to bust from a backpedalling scrum liking with Nawara who set up Trask’s double with a well-timed inside pass.
Predicably Canterbury rallied and an assertive rolling maul resulted in profit for prop Finlay Brewis.
En-route to the title Bay of Plenty won six games in a row and scored more points than any other Union in the country.
Trask was the recipient of the DJ Graham Medal for player of the tournament. The New Zealand Under-20’s representative is the first back to receive the accolade. The previous winners have been all flankers.
Day 3 results
Manawatu 21 – Heartland 12
Auckland Development 59 – Northland 14
Counties Manukau 29 – Southland 24
Waikato 30 – Otago 5
Hawke’s Bay 40 – Taranaki 13
Auckland 35 – Tasman 31
North Harbour 21 – Wellington 10
Bay of Plenty 35 – Canterbury 30
1st Bay of Plenty
3rd North Harbour
7th Hawke’s Bay
11th Counties Manukau
13th Auckland Development
5 Jack McConnell, Waikato
5 Siave Seti, Waikato
5 Bartje Wierenga, Bay of Plenty
4 Lalomilo Lalomilo, Bay of Plenty
4 Kaleb Trask, Bay of Pleny
4 Lincoln McClutchie, Hawkes Bay
4 Heremaia Murray, Counties Manukau
4 Tevahn Ta’ufo’ou, Manawatu
4 Michaile Van Wyk, Auckland Development
54 Kaleb Trask, Bay of Pleny
51 Fergus Burke, Canterbury
41 Viliama Sipa, Auckland Development
39 Josh McPerhson, Tasman
36 Thomas Strachan, Auckland
34 Nikau Graham, Northland
34 Callum Harkin, Wellington
31 Jack Heighton, North Harbour