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Title race opens as ’18 finalists both defeated


WAENGAPU Stallions tipped over the champion Paikea Whalers and Ngatapa Stags grabbed their first win in a round of rugby league that showed several teams are in the hunt to win the Gisborne-Tairawhiti title.

The Stallions piled on more than 50 points against the Whalers on Saturday, winning 56-18, while the Stags had the tightest win of the round, defeating Turanga Panthers 38-36.

All the teams will have taken note of another interesting result — Manutuke Mustangs got up over the Seeka Falcons despite being a man down for half of the game, winning 36-16.

Both of last year’s finalists — the Whalers and Falcons — had their first losses of the season.

Their conquerors — the Stallions and Mustangs — have been thrust into the spotlight and they have their share of talent and pace.

The Stallions racked up a 42-0 lead, causing headaches for the Whalers’ defence before a much more even second half.

Stallions player-coach Jay Casey said it was a top-class team effort from his side.

Casey said Hylam Tukariri, who weighs only about 80 kilograms, put his hand up to play prop and scored a couple of length-of-the-field tries.

The Whalers had been the benchmark team for the past decade and the score-line didn’t reflect their effort, he said.

Daniel Taituha and Isaiah Leach, playing just his third game of league, led the way for the Whalers.

But the Stallions ran hard and their defence was well organised.

The Mustangs had a strong defensive structure but were let down by their discipline, losing a player to the sin-bin in the first half and then having a player sent off in the second.

They still came away with a convincing win over the Falcons, however.

Mustangs player-coach Rana Wharehinga said Dominic Wilson, Jesse Kapene and Shayde Skudder had strong games and the backs communicated well on defence.

“It was a hard game for both teams.”

The match between the Stags and Panthers could have gone either way.

Two points down, the Panthers had the Stags pinned to their own goal-line in the last five minutes but the Stags defended their hearts out and took the win.

FINDING FORM: Manutuke Mustangs player Dominic Wilson, with ball in hand against Ngatapa Stags in an earlier round, was strong against the Seeka Falcons on Saturday. The Mustangs had a 36-16 victory over the Falcons. Picture by Paul Rickard