Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Sibi Raika (pictured) had every reason to feel dizzy.
Firstly, the whippet Te Arawa halfback had been smashed senseless in a brutal tackle which saw him eventually assisted from Rotorua's Purenga Park field during the Waka final of the annual New Zealand Maori Tournament yesterday.
But more importantly the 37-year-old former Kiwi was savouring a sweet 36-24 Te Arawa victory when he decided to announce he was hanging up his boots for good.
"That's it for me - what a way to go out! I always wanted to win a grand final, I've been in three but this is the first win," he told the Daily Post as Te Arawa captain Jason Walker held the Tom (Lummy) Newton Trophy.
It was the first time the prestigious carving had been in Te Arawa hands and thousands of people had descended on Purenga Park to watch the locals play their Tuhoe cousins in an absorbing afternoon final which typified Maori rugby league.
"Awesome effort, it's been a long time coming, we've struggled to get past the semis but we've done the job," Walker proudly said in his acceptence speech.
The final was both breathtaking and crazy with helter skelter football, with big defence and free-flowing attack, giving the spectators plenty to 'ooh' and 'ah' about.
Te Arawa weathered the early Tuhoe onslaught and looked to have the winning of the match as they went to halftime with a 20-10 advantage. Winger Shamos Hunter bagged a first half double and finished with three of their seven tries while classy centre Zachan Herewini eventually scored a double.
Raika had been one of the kingpins for Te Arawa all weekend. The Taupo Phoenix club player fed the ball superbly and probed like a surgeon when the time came, turning the defence inside out with his scampering and side stepping runs.
There was some concern when he was poleaxed and assisted from the field as a high tackle put the nationally regarded player out of the game in 1991. He had a 12-year break before he laced his boots back on in 2003 with Phoenix.
Raiki, who was adjudged the WaiCoa Bay's best and fairest player in the 2005 season, said it was the perfect time to retire.
"This has topped it off, a grand final win and WaiCoa Bay player of the year - it's unbelievable," he said.
Raiki said he had had great support from his partner Chrystal, their child Rahquarne, and his Rotorua-based sons Delaney and Tipene which had allowed him to keep playing.
He wasn't the only experienced head making a big impact in the 80-minute final with Tuhoe veteran Mark Woods showing he hadn't lost the ability to go forward despite clocking up 40 years recently.
From their opening haka to their sizzling football New South Wales, Maori left a huge impression on Rotorua. The pacy visitors easily took out the final of the Rohe section of the annual New Zealand Maori Tournament in Rotorua yesterday.
They slammed Ngati Kahungunu 62-4 in the final and many players signalled to New Zealand Maori selector Howie Tamati they wouldn't be out of place when he selected his side to take on Fiji in Coffs Harbour next January.
"The top teams, we saw that in the Waka final, there were some excellent games throughout the tournament and it was very consistent, there is a marked difference obviously in the boys from Pouakena, you could see their fitness levels, skill levels and the intesity they play just marked them as a class apart," the former Kiwi player and coach said.
Many of their players are playing in NRL feeder competitions with former Warrior centre Vince Mellars and past academy players Hare Te Rangi and Ben Ellis turning out.
Tamati, who is on the Maori Rugby league board, said its increasingly hard for New Zealand's best players to come to the tournament as they had commitments with the New Zealand A and Kiwi sides but he hoped the future scheduling would provide some carrots.
The Maori XIII have just completed a drawn tests series with the Cook Islands and Tamati said in future he'd like that played later in the year and have the team selected from the annual tournament.
"If we can provide the incentive to play in New Zealand Maori sides after this tournament, then I know they'll rock up."
Article courtesy of the Rotorua Daily Post.