Defending champions Tupapa Panthers have made it through to the Rarotonga Club 15s grand final.
The Darren Piri-coached side defeated Arorangi Cowboys 27-24 in a closely contested playoff at Victoria Park on Saturday.
The Panthers were reduced to 14-man after loose forward Simeli Ravula was red carded and sent off the field for a dangerous spear tackle on a Cowboys player.
The Cowboys went about their work and they led at the halftime break by 16 – 12.
Early in the second half, the Cowboys extended that lead to 19-12 with a superbly taken 40 metre drop goal by their halfback Basil Matapo – the Cowboys could sense victory.
But Panthers brought on some fresh and fast substitutions, Beniasi Dakuwaqa and Jovilisi “Sio” Naqitawa. The move changed the momentum of the game as the Panthers went back in to their natural attacking form.
Within a 15-minute period, the Panthers scored 15 points with tries to loose forward Fereti Iona and left winger Naqitawa, and a conversion and drop-kick by first five-eighth Viiga Ruepena.
Some Cowboys ill-discipline did not help their cause.
The top performers for the Cowboys were multi-skilled number eight Tanire Mokoroa and busy midfielder Stephen Willis.
The Panthers’ whole forward pack, who had to step up after they lost a player in the first half, put on a brilliant performance. They were led by their 140kg prop Davey Mato and destructive loose forward Fereti Iona.
Despite the loss, the Cowboys have another shot at the final. They will take on Avatiu Nikao Eels in the do-or-die semi-final this Saturday at home.
The Eels defeated Takitumu 27-9 in the “sudden death” semi-final on Saturday.
Competition coordinator Ben Koteka said it was great to see Takitumu come “in full-force”.
Takitumu started well scoring the first points via a 35 metre penalty goal to veteran utility back Richard Piakura.
“Shortly after that Takitumu were very unlucky not to score when their centre en-route to the try line dropped the ball on the try line,” Koteka said.
After a jittery start, the Eels managed to find their footing and scored tries to lead 15-6 at the break.
“Takitumu tried hard but were unable to consistently retain possession for long periods of time in order to build pressure and score points.”
A couple of second half tries to the Eels saw them win by 27-9.
U16 Country 21 (Tries: Troy Matutu (2) & Zac Tuaati. Conv: Ryan Daniel (3) U16 Town 7 (Try: Terry Akava. Conv: Edwin Tauira); U19 Town 24 (Tries: Joaquin Pantaleon(2), Nathan Nabou & Marcus Gibbens Conv: Jireh Vunibaka (2) U19 Country 19 (Tries: Vaipo Mataora, Tepa Tuapta & Parau Ellis. Conv: Parau Ellis & JJ Karika). Senior A – Avatiu Eels 27 (Tries: Towari Kenake, Kelepi Komaisavou, Mafu Kito Kalas & Louis Nicholas, Cov: Towari Kenake (2) Pen: Towari Kenake) Takitumu 9 (Pen: Richard Piakura (3); Tupapa Panthers 27 (Tries: Fereti Iona & Jovilisi “Sio” Naqitawa. Conv: Viiga Ruepena Pen: Viiga Ruepena (3) Pot: Viiga Ruepena) Arorangi Cowboys 24 (Tries: Geoff Mangele & Ratu Makirere. Con: Leo Roa Pen: Leo Roa (3) Pot: Basil Matapo)