By Justin Miezenbeek
Te Awamutu Sports continued their remarkable turnaround by pushing perennial powerhouse Hamilton Marist to the brink of upset, before ultimately succumbing 26-16 at Albert Park in Waikato Premier Rugby on Saturday.
The opening stanza was one that Hamilton Marist dominated in possession and territory, but couldn’t break through the impressive Sports defence, bending but not breaking in the face of relentless pressure.
Like last week it was their impressive line speed that forced errors and put their opposition on their heels, making a mockery of the size difference between the two and showing there is some real steel developing in this young Sports side.
Evaan Reihana slotted a penalty goal early to take a 3-0 lead, which held until the 38th minute where the Sports line finally broke, Marist up 7-3 at the half.
After withstanding so much first half pressure, the risk of quick points hung overhead but Sports made the early running in the second, pinning Marist deep, and halfback Ryan McNeil pounced on a fractured defensive line after a penalty, his quick tap catching everyone napping and somersaulting over the line to give Sports the lead 10-7.
Marist hit back though, riding the back of a mounting penalty count, pinning Sports on their line and a perfectly executed rolling maul took the lead back 14-10.
Pivot Logan Karl chipped a goal to pull it back to 14-13 as the game entered the final stages, but Marist answered, finding a hole around the fringe and stretching the lead to 21-13.
Karl chipped another goal with 5 minutes remaining but with the score at 21-16, Sports kept finding themselves on the sharp end of the referees whistle, pushing themselves back into their own quarter, where a tired looking exit play let Marist in again in the dying seconds to deny them a much deserved bonus point.
For Sports, it was another step forward for a young side who is developing and punching well above their weight. Flankers Matthew Towers and Connor Loomans were especially impressive in getting through a mountain of work alongside No.8 Fetu Sasalu who again put his body on the line, hurling himself into the Marist pack. The front row of Gordon Fullerton, Simon Kay, Liam Hobbs along with Lock Patrick O’Sullivan and Josh Reynolds also were huge in both defense and with ball in hand.
Pivot Logan Karl again impressed, forming a nice combination with halfback Ryan McNeil and midfielders Evaan Reihana and Caleb Loomans were up to the task of containing the massive Marist midfield.
The task doesn’t get any easier for Sports with neighbours Hautapu coming to town in red hot form after a huge win over Fraser Tech