Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
5 days ago
The Tamaki Leopards have booked themselves a spot in the Bartercard Cup semi-finals with the Canterbury Bulls.
The Leopards beat the Waitakere Rangers by 25-24 in extra time at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland on Monday night.
Waitakere opened the scoring in the second minute when prop Karl Edmondson went in.
But the Leopards struck back in impressive style in the eighth minute when co-captain William Heta made easy work of the Rangers? defence to slip over.
Heta then added the extras to take the lead for the Dean Clark coached Tamaki side.
Despite making a series of mistakes - that gifted Waitakere plenty of possession - it was the Leopards who managed to add the next points to the scoreboard.
With the Waitakere defence spread across the park, Heta launched a stunning spiral bomb towards that caused mayhem for the Rangers.
The ball bounced loose and with room to run the Leopards sent second-rower Fred Turuwhenua in for the try in the 18th minute.
Heta again added the conversion and then collected a penalty to give Tamaki a 14-4 lead.
But Waitakere weren?t going to sit back and let the Leopards roar.
The Bernie Parenara coached side showed plenty of attacking flair and it wasn?t long before they converted possession into points.
With a little over 10 minutes to run in the first half the Rangers spread the ball wide setting centre John Tavaga up to steamroll his way over the defence to reduce the gap to 14-8.
Another bunch of mistakes saw the Leopards again on the back foot.
And this time the Rangers made them pay.
They stormed their way into opposition territory and then forced the ball out to winger Mana Tuipolotu who cruised through a gap and over the line.
Hooker Dean Shepherd made easy work of the conversion from in front of the posts to level the scores at 14-14 at halftime.
Tuipolotu showed his talent three minutes into the second half standing up the Leopards defence on the wing to collect his second try of the night.
A great set of play from Bernard Perenara and Cliff Beverley opened up just enough room for the tough winger to hit full pace and charge over.
But the Leopards continued to fight on.
Heta hit back in the 50th minute throwing a great dummy that left the Waitakere defence wrong-footed to dive over under the posts for a great individual try.
His conversion gave the Leopards a two point lead.
The Rangers showed plenty of composure midway through the second half and it paid dividends when Robinson Godfrey barrelled his way over the line with just under 20 minutes to run before fulltime.
Waitakere called lock Scott Jones up to the kicking duties and he didn?t disappoint nailing the kick from close to the sideline to take a narrow four point the lead.
Leopards star Cooper Vuna squared the scores at 24-24 with five and a half minutes to play when he grounded a great grubber kick from Heta.
Neither team could grab an extra point before fulltime and the game was forced into extra time.
With golden point rules applying the Leopards threw everything they had left at Waitakere.
A stunning 40/20 kick from Heta put the Tamaki side into a great scoring position and after probing the line they set their attack for a field goal attempt which halfback Darin Kingi made easy work of to seal the win.