The undefeated Sea Eagles thumped defending champions Tupapa Panthers 28-6 in the top two playoff match at the BCI Stadium on Friday to earn a direct qualification into the showdown.
However it’s not over for the Panthers yet as the side still has a chance to make the Raro Cars Rugby League Competition 2019 final. The Darren Piri-coached side will play Avatiu Eels in a much anticipated semi-final this weekend.
The Eels defeated Arorangi Bears 31-26 in the second premier playoff match which was held on Saturday at the stadium.
The do-or-die battle between the Eels and the Bears was dubbed the match of the round.
Both teams fought tooth and nail but the Eels managed to sneak away with a winning try in the dying stages to claim the important win.
The Bears finished a spot ahead of the Eels in third place and had won both the matches when the two teams met this season. But over the weekend, they were left backpedaling after the Eels scored two quick tries to take an early 12-0 lead.
However, the inspiring Bears fought back and managed to level the game before scoring their third try to head into the break with a 16-12 lead.
After a strong pep talk from technical advisor Albert Nicholas, the Meti Noovao-coached Eels got off to a good start in the second spell and managed to regain the lead 26-16 with two successive tries.
The Bears hit back with a try to cushion the deficit to 22-26.
In an intense final quarter, the Eels kicked a drop goal to go a point ahead before the Bears scored to put the match within fighting distance. However the side was unsuccessful with the conversion kick and trailed 26-27 with minutes remaining.
The Bears tried hard to breach the Eels defence which stood tall in the dying stage of the match. The latter managed to turn defence into attack and scored the winning try to claim their spot in this Saturday’s semis.
Cook Islands Rugby League competition coordinator Tai Nelio said the Eels versus the Bears match was probably one of the best playoff matches they have witnessed in a long time.
“It was a hard fought match with both teams determined to win. The Bears almost caused an upset fighting back to close the score to a one-point difference 27-26 towards the end of the second half,” Nelio said.
“The game went right down to the wire, for the Eels to clinch the unconverted winning try a minute out from full time. The Bears can only blame themselves with some basic mistakes of ball handling. The Eels took advantage of those errors and came away with some points.
“With everyone thinking the Eels were going to run away with the game by a big score, it wasn’t to be. The Bears stayed in the game and scored some fantastic tries but fell short at the end.”
In the reserves playoffs, the Sea Eagles defeated the Eels 20-14 in another exciting clash to keep their title hopes alive.
The side will play the loser of the Panthers versus the Titikaveka Bulldogs match, which will be held today at Victoria Park, for a place in the final.
Friday – U16 Arorangi Bears 30 Titikaveka Bulldogs 0, Premiers Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles 28 Tupapa Panthers 6; Saturday – U9/11 Tupapa Panthers 4 Nga/Matavera Sea Eagles 1, U9/11 Arorangi Bears 3 Avatiu Eels 1, U13 Tupapa Panthers 24 Nga/Matavera Sea Eagles 16, U13 Arorangi Bears 28 Avatiu Eels 0, U16 Tupapa Panthers 30 Nga/Matavera Sea Eagles 6, Reserves Avatiu Eels 14 Nga/Matavera Sea Eagles 20, Premiers Arorangi Bears 26 Avatiu Eels 31