A SCINTILLATING solo try from Hikurangi fullback Kris Palmer sealed his side’s 26-11 win against Hicks Bay in the East Coast club final at Ruatoria on Saturday.
“They were all heroes,” a jubilant Hikurangi coach Troy Para said as his side retained the Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield as champions and the Pirika Frederick Huriwai Memorial played for each time the teams meet.
Palmer’s try was a highlight of a match filled with highlights.
The defending champions were leading 19-11 eight minutes into the second half when he received the ball 40 metres out from the Hicks Bay line.
With Palmer having four Hicks Bay players to beat and no support, a try never looked on the cards. But after beating the first tackler on the outside, Palmer ran at the second, dropped his left shoulder and accelerated away on the outside towards the third would-be tackler. Again Palmer beat his man on the outside before leaving the last man clutching thin air.
Somehow he stayed inside the touchline before racing around to score between the posts without a hand being laid on him. He then kicked the conversion.
It was a try fit to grace any final and earned the applause of the large group of supporters who travelled to Whakarua Park.
That left Hicks Bay — who lost talismanic halfback and skipper Tyrone “T-Bone” Delamere in the fifth minute with a calf injury — needing to score three times.
Against a superbly organised and fiercely committed Hikurangi side, that was always going to be an uphill battle.
The men in red — roared on by their fans — refused to throw in the towel and spent the last seven minutes hammering the Hikurangi line.
Four five-metre scrums went down with Hicks Bay having the feed-in. They crossed the line twice but were held up. On the other two charges they were met by a wall of black jerseys.
Hikurangi captain Drummond Morice, who failed a late fitness test and was replaced in the front row by Joe Keelan, sounded the battle cry for his side as they headed into the dressing room before re-emerging for the kick-off when he said: “Remember, bros, there’s no tomorrow; only today”.
To a man, Hikurangi responded from the kick-off and posted the first points, a try to right-winger Te Hira Matahiki in the fifth minutes.
Forwards and backs combined as Hikurangi stretched the Hicks Bay defence before Matahiki scored in the corner.
Three minutes later, openside flanker and Hikurangi stand-in captain Matanuku Parata scored a five-pointer, which Palmer converted.
Openside flanker Parata, arguably the man of the match, was outstanding. While not the biggest No.7, his reading of the game, support play, covering and tackling meant he was never far from the action.
He handled twice in the build-up to his try, with lock Kereti Palmer and second five-eighth Rob Ngarimu also involved.
With centre Hona Delamere — Tyrone’s brother — now at halfback, Hicks Bay began to get more ball. After good work from their forwards, in particular lock JJ Skipworth and No.8 Frank Taiapa, they strung several phases together and were rewarded with a penalty in the 20th minute to centre Irie Noanoa.
Buoyed by the go-forward from their pack, Hicks Bay continued to keep the ball close, using the pick-and-go to good effect. Three minutes later they stunned the home crowd with a super try to Noanoa.
Burly first five Bluey Walker charged 30 metres upfield, carrying a couple of Hikurangi players with him, before the ball was spread wide to Noanoa.
The slightly-built back had work to do as the Hikurangi covering defenders were coming hard at him, but Noanoa showed determination to score in the corner.
HIKURANGI hit back almost immediately with a try to centre Tovio Fidow following a brilliant run by second five Rob Ngarimu.
Matanuku Parata turned over the ball four metres outside his 22 and strongly-built Ngarimu carved a huge hole in the Hicks Bay defence as he raced 50 metres.
He drew the last man and delivered a perfectly-timed pass for centre Tovio Fidow to canter on to and dot down between the posts. Kris Palmer converted for a 19-8 lead.
Hicks Bay midfielder Irie Noanoa closed the gap to 19-11 with a penalty just before halftime but Hicks Bay had to start the second half with 14 men after referee Chris Wanoa sinbinned flanker Brady Heu — the first of four yellow cards.
The last 40 was only five minutes old when Hicks Bay hooker Wayne Tihore and Hikurangi flanker Rhys Walker were in the bin after a melee broke out from a high tackle on No.8 Tanetoa Parata.
Not long after, Tanetoa Parata himself was also shown yellow before the match settled down.
Hikurangi coach Troy Para said getting off to a great start was key and Palmer’s try was the clincher.
“We knew we had to take some sting out of Hicks Bay’s big pack and to a certain extent we did that by scoring those early points,” Para said.
“But we always knew this was going to be tough and I wasn’t surprised when they came back at us. I’m proud of the boys.
“I’m not going to single anyone out. They were all heroes.”
Hicks Bay manager Graeme Summersby refused to put the defeat down to the loss of Tyrone Delamere.
“On the day, Hiku deserved to win,” Summersby said.
“Losing T-Bone early was a huge blow but I don’t want to take anything away from Hiku or our boys who gave it everything they had.”
Summersby said he felt for his skipper.
“You saw how much of a team player he is. Even though he was hurting and should have been resting his leg and getting treatment, he stood on the touchline for the whole game encouraging the boys.
“Despite the loss, making the final in our centennial year was a great effort by the boys ”
Other Hikurangi players to stand out were halfback Charlie Harrison, Keelan, lock Pakanui Webb and first five Kahu Ward.