White Star are the Buller Rugby Union Senior Shield winners after a pulsating final against Westport on Saturday.
Played on Victoria Square, where the ground and weather conditions were perfect, it was the underdogs White Star who lifted the trophy with a nail-biting 27-25 victory.
Westport had prevailed in the last two meetings of the teams with some powerful play. White Star was also going into the final minus its outstanding fullback Anthony Tailua. Tailua, who has scored 121 points for the season, including 10 tries was a real game breaker. All of this certainly gave Westport the favourites tag. The odds certainly went out further when White Star five-eighth and playmaker Jesse Elley had to leave the field with an ankle injury. Elley had put his team in front with a penalty after 25 minutes. From here the score line see-sawed for the remaining 55 minutes. Westport had brought their kingpin five-eighth Tim Manawatu off the bench early to run their game plan. White Star had to shuffle their backline around using John Noble at five-eighth. For the remainder of the match these two had a big influence on the outcome.
Manawatu used his passing and kicking game to get his side into attacking positions. Noble was the calming influence in the backline for White Star setting up the defensive line when needed and calling the attacking ploys. Stars’ 3-0 lead was short-lived when centre Josh Tuidriva was sinbinned for a no arms tackle on Westport’s Andrew Norton-Taylor right on Stars’ line.
Referee Andrew Duncan had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try and Westport led 7-3. Down to 14 players White Star continued to attack at every opportunity. Iliesa Ravudra and Isaac Hogarth were prepared to take on the Westport defence of Tuk Samuels and Pat Sakuru. From here Star forwards Logan Mundy, Phil Beveridge and Callum Lennon, along with Jon Scanlon and Salesi Kaifoto challenged the Westport forwards.
It was Star fullback Alex Paterson who scored next after his team carried the ball for 15 phases. With Westport struggling to hold them out, quick hands through the backs saw Paterson score for his team to lead 8-7 after 37 minutes. Paterson featured in the next scoring moment, but not one he will want to remember.
After a Westport kick rolled over the White Star goal line, Paterson attempted to fly kick it dead. He missed and Westport flanker Kahu Parata dived on it to score. Norton-Taylor’s conversion had Westport in front 14-8 at halftime. At this point White Star coach Craig Neill would have been wondering how his side dominated territory and possession and yet had gifted Westport two converted tries.
His side had attacked Westport through the forwards and set pieces upsetting the gold and black lineout and scrums.
White Star loose forwards Robbie Bonisch, Luke Brownlee and Luke Watson won numerous turn overs. All three were also involved in ball carrying and keeping the Westport loose forwards Sean Martin, Javorn Walter, Kahu Parata and Zach Walsh from making breaks.The second half started badly for White Star as Norton-Taylor kicked a penalty in the first minute for a 17-8 lead. This lead was short lived as in the next 12 minutes, White Star centre Josh Tuidriva scored two tries, both converted by halfback and Star captain, Sam Marris, and Stars led 22-17.
The first try was courtesy of a Brownlee turnover on his own 10-metre line. Marris sent his backs away and Tuidriva’s running did the rest. Westport weren’t going to give in, but had a big hill to climb as prop Jareth McKay was red carded. Good ball carrying by Stephen Crackett and Glen Duncan plus the control of halfback Corey Jenkins saw Manawatu score. At 22-all with 10 minutes to play it was all on, especially with White Star infringing. This cost them territory and eventually points as Norton-Taylor kicked a penalty to put Westport in front with 6 minutes left on the clock. It was Westport who defended stoutly for 5 ½ of those 6 minutes as Stars threatened their line and their 25-22 lead.
With time up on the clock, White Star hit it up again to within 8 metres of the Westport try line. A loose carry saw them spill the ball and the clearing kick went 55 metres up field. Back covering was 17-year-old White Star winger Evander Galley. Showing maturity and skill, he stopped the ball from rolling into touch and took off up the grandstand touchline. He was stopped 5 metres out from scoring, but in the process Westport infringed and were penalised. Quick thinking from Tuidriva saw him tap the ball to dive over through a melee of Westport defenders to score his third try of the final, but more importantly give his team the Senior Shield for 2017 by 27-25.
For White Star it was a triumph after being runners-up the past two seasons. For Westport it was a chance lost, not having held the Shield since 2003.
White Star relied on the ball-carrying forwards Mundy, Beveridge, Lennon, Hemi Manawatu, Scanlon and Kaifoto. Then the loose forwards Bonisch, Brownlee, Lochie Elley and Watson. In the engine room the unheralded Jon Scanlon and Salesi Kaifoto outdid themselves. The hero, and at times villain, of the back line was Tuidriva with his three tries. He had Marris and Noble plus the hard-tackling Hogarth and Ravudra to thank for the space and freedom of his play. White Star youngsters Paterson, Galley and Dylan Rustbach all belied their age and experience in the final with Galley setting up the winning try.
From the coaches, White Star’s Craig Neill was quietly pleased with the win, especially being down two of his leading players. “The senior members Brownlee, Beveridge and Mundy, along with John Noble and Sam Marris really led the way.”
Hugh McMillan, Westport’s co-coach with Thomas Stuart, said it was closely fought, a classic final which went down to the last 30 seconds. Andrew Duncan controlled the fixture with assistance from Phil Grafton and John Lennon.
White Star: tries to Josh Tuidriva 3, Alex Paterson; Jesse Elley penalty, Sam Marris 2 conversions.
Westport: tries to Kahu Parata, Tim Manawatu penalty, try and conversion; Andrew Norton-Taylor 2 penalties and a conversion.
Players of the day:
White Star: Robbie Bonisch Luke Brownlee
Westport: Tokohau Samuels Tim Manawatu
White Star also won the Challenge Trophy.