Defending champions Eels hosted the Reds in The Bond Store match of the week at The Swamp on Saturday and after an intense 80 minutes battle, both teams settled for a 22-all draw.
The home side got off to a bright start, taking a 5-0 lead through robust centre Tua Ravula.
But that lead didn’t last too long after the Reds bounced back in style to level the match 5-all through Patrick Ngarua’s try.
Both teams maintained their pressure on each other but their defence stood tall to keep the attackers at bay.
With the mounting pressure on them, the visitors succumbed to discipline, giving away silly penalties that saw Eels pivot James Kiriau extending their lead to 11-5.
Reds regrouped and some brilliant play from its forwards led by Mana Havi saw Viiga Ruepena cross the whitewash to give them the slender 12-11 lead.
Eels through some scintillating piece of play set up their speedy winger Samu Alafua, who scored a superb try in the corner to regain their lead 16-12, heading into the break.
The tempo of the game improved in the second spell as both teams gained grounds on each other to get the crucial points.
Kiriau kicked another penalty to extend Eels lead to 19-12 before Josua Koroitukana slotted a drop goal to reduce the Reds’ deficit to 19-15.
The Reds maintained their momentum and looked to have won the match after burly centre Tevita Niusama scored with five minutes remaining on the clock.
The successful conversion from Ruepena saw Reds take the 22-19.
But the Eels did not lose hope and their relentless effort was rewarded with a penalty in the dying stages which Kiriau slotted in with an ease to level the match 22-all.
Eels busy loose forwards Leki Mafi and partner Tamanui Nicholas, who was named their player of the match, played an outstanding match while Niusama, Havi and Ruepena stood out for the Reds.
Reds coach Vase Samania, who was disappointed with some of the calls made by the referee, said they expected a rusty start to the season.
“It’s always hard in the opening match because the players are still getting there with their game fitness but we’re happy we had a full team,” Samania said.
“We struggled a bit in the first few minutes, but still managed to come back and score some tries. It was a good effort from the boys.
“It’s the first game of the season and we hope to come back with a better performance in the upcoming matches.”
Eels stand in coach Billy Tuaivi praised the players for fighting until the end to level the match.
“This year we are trying to change things to make it a bit quicker and better for the team and I think we didn’t do that. In the second half, we went back to the old way of playing rugby,” he said.
“But a draw is better than losing and it’s just our first game so we are content with the result.”
In the other Senior A clash over the weekend, Ngatangiia/Matavera Dragons held Tupapa Panthers 14-all at home while Titikaveka Bulls defeated Arorangi Cowboys 32-30 at Raemaru Park.