Points rain as Coast break drought
THE Coast drought is over.
Eight years and 18 days after their previous Heartland Championship win, Ngati Porou East Coast ended a 54-match losing streak at Ruatoria’s Whakarua Park on Saturday.
And they did it in style — a 50-26 win over Buller on a glorious day in front of a large and appreciative legion of supporters.
Fittingly, halfback Sam Parkes was one of the stars of a show that also featured the Heartland debut of All Black great Ma’a Nonu, who was joined on the field by Coast coach and former All Black Hosea Gear and Samoan international Faifili Levave — all three having played Super Rugby for the Hurricanes.
By the time they came on the game was won but their mere presence on the bench was an inspiration.
Not that Parkes needed any more. The man known as “Cowboy” was playing his 50th match for the Coast and was instrumental in their drought-breaking victory. He scored two first-half tries in a Most Valuable Player performance and played the entire 80 minutes — a testament to his commitment and fitness.
The squad were further motivated by the passing of “true blue” supporter Ben Kaiwai. Players wore black armbands and a minute’s silence was observed before kick-off.
From that and the traditional haka, the Coast sprang into action led powerfully by captain Hone Haerewa and directed superbly by first five-eighth Te Rangi Fraser, the only survivor from their last Heartland win (22-18 over Poverty Bay on September 28, 201..
Fraser, in a happy coincidence for the Coast, scored two tries in that Bay win and repeated the effort on Saturday in his sublime 25-point individual tally.
Nonu and Gear showed their class when they came on. A classic Gear run set up a try and Nonu disproved critics of his kicking game back in the day by popping one perfectly-weighted kick into the arms of Gear and also kicking a 50-22 to give the Coast a lineout on attack.
Wearing the socks of the Uawa club, Nonu further endeared himself to the fans by jumping on a horse and going for a trot after the match.
Nonu told Radio Ngati Porou Facebook watchers and listeners that his first-ever Heartland game was a “great” experience and that he was more than happy “to lend a hand to the brother (Gear)”.
Gear said the Coast team effort was “awesome” and he was extremely proud of all his players.
He pointed out that he, Nonu and Levave only came on when the victory was secure.
As to Nonu, Gear said “never in a million years would I have thought the brother would be here”.
Skipper Haerewa echoed the words of Gear in relation to the team performance and made special mention of Parkes.
“He’s a true cowboy, leads from the front. All we had to do was follow him all day.”
Meanwhile, there was another numerical coincidence down the highway in Gisborne where Poverty Bay downed King Country at Rugby Park by exactly the same score — 50-26 — for their third win of the season.
The last time the Bay and the Coast won Heartland matches on the same day was October 6, 2012. The Coast went on to win the Meads Cup final that year with a memorable 29-27 comeback win over Whanganui.
Ngati Porou East Coast 50 (Teina Potae, Sam Parkes 2, Te Rangi Fraser 2, Tawhao Stewart, Jack Richardson tries; Fraser 6 con, pen)
Buller 26 (Iliesa Tora, Petrus de Kock 2, Mitieli Kaloudigibeci tries; Andrew Norton-Taylor 3 con)