Ngāti Porou East Coast end 54-game losing streak with All Black influence
The drought is over for Ngāti Porou East Coast and, as it turned out, they didn’t really need All Black great Ma’a Nonu to finally have their day in the sun.
Eight long years and 54 matches since they last tasted victory, East Coast returned to the Heartland Championship winner’s circle with a 50-26 drubbing of Buller in Ruatoria.
The tiny provincial union became the sports story of the week when it emerged that coach and fellow former All Black Hosea Gear had persuaded Nonu to make a surprise comeback at Whakarua Park.
By the time Nonu, Gear, who also dusted off the boots, and a third former international, Samoa international Faifili Levave, came off the bench in the 60th-minute, the result was well and truly in the bag with East Coast up by 31.
Still, if the motivation behind Gear’s big-name recruitment strategy was to simply inspire confidence, it proved to be a masterstroke as his local players rose to the occasion to secure the breakthrough in style.
Milestone man Sam Parkes and first-five Te Rangi Fraser both scored doubles, while the latter finished with a personal haul of 25 points.
But, as expected, some of the biggest cheers were reserved for Nonu as the home fans delighted at seeing the 103-test star don the sky blue jersey.
The 39-year-old got off to an inauspicious start after conceding a penalty for holding on during his first carry.
But there were several classy touches throughout his late cameo, including a booming 50/20 kick that set up Fraser’s second try.
That Nonu didn’t have a whole lot to do was down to the hard work of his new teammates, who dominated the first half to lead 24-5.
Fraser got East Coast on the front foot with a brilliant piece of play, scything through the defence before unleashing a long cut-out pass to wing Teina Potae, who caught it on the bounce and beat his opposite to score.
It wasn’t long before Buller hit back through wing Iliesa Tora, after some sustained pressure inside the East Coast 22m.
But back-to-back tries to halfback Sam Parkes, the first off a strong charge by Potae before catching the Buller defence napping with a quick tap, ensured East Coast went into the break firmly in control.
Parkes, who was celebrating his 50th appearance, was a man on a mission and was unlucky not to score a first-half hat-trick after making multiple line-breaks.
But that wouldn’t have bothered him one bit as the home team continued to put Buller to the sword, with Fraser (twice), Tawhao Stewart and Jack Richardson all crossing in the second half.
No 8 Gabba De Kock stood out for the visitors, finishing with a second-half double. But apart from the opening quarter, Buller were always playing catch-up as they fell to a fifth-straight defeat.
Ngāti Porou East Coast 50 (Sam Parkes 2, Te Rangi Fraser 2, Teina Potae, Tawhao Stewart, Jack Richardson tries; Fraser pen, Fraser 6 cons) Buller 26 (Gabba De Kock 2, Iliesa Tora, Miti Kaloudigibeci tries; Andrew Norton-Taylor 3 cons). HT: 24-5.
Last Heartland Victory:
2,940 Days ago
Sat 28 Sep 2013 vs Poverty Bay WON 22-18