East Coast avenged last year’s loss when it came from behind to beat Wanganui 29-27 in a thrilling final at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria, on Saturday.
The reigning champion dominated the first 40 minutes and deservedly led 20-3. It looked to have the game sewn up when fullback Asalemo Malo scored a try, converted by left winger Nick Harding, 13 minutes into the second half.
But with 15 minutes remaining, East Coast scored 26 unanswered points in front of a crowd of 2000 screaming fans.
Tries to former Wanganui winger Tau Moeke, prop Ziggy Fisihoi, replacement Mike King and fullback Verdon Bartlett, along with three conversions to first five-eighth John Semple, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“We just couldn’t get our hands on the pill in the first 40. Wanganui were all over us,” East Coast player-coach Ngarimu Simpkins said.
“But we knew if we hung in and could get some possession, we had the backs to finish.”
Wanganui opened the scoring with a penalty to Harding after seven minutes and for the next 33 minutes the visiting forwards controlled possession and territory.
Areta Lama, making his first starting appearance of the season in the No 10 jersey, and midfield backs Rhema Sagote and Saul Chase were causing the Coast all sorts of problems with their hard and straight running.
Tries to lock Nic Cranston and Sagote, coupled with a Harding penalty and conversion, gave Wanganui a 17-point lead at the break.
Wanganui had the better of the first 25 minutes after the restart but, once Moeke scored the Coast’s first try, the wheels began to fall off.
By John Hill, of the Gisborne Herald
East Coast 29
Tau Moeke, Ziggy Fisiihoi, Mike King, Verdon Bartlett tries; John Semple 3 con, pen
Nick Cranston, Rhema Sagote, Asalemo Malo tries; Nick Harding 3 con, pen; Areta Lama drop goal
Halftime: Wanganui 20-3