THE room was dark and smoky. The regular sound of poker chips coming together gave an unsteady rhythm, replicating the mood of the players left seated at the table. Onlookers shuffled around nervously, sensing that something big was about to happen.
THE Canterbury Bulls led the national rugby league final with just seconds to go but came second to Mt Albert at Ericsson Stadium yesterday.
MANUREWA has won the Mad Butcher Fox Memorial for the first time, beating minor premiers Papakura 34-24.
The game represented the first time in the history of the Fox Memorial that either team had played in the final.
It has taken Manurewa over 70 years, since the championships inception in 1931, to win the Auckland club competition.
It was mistake free football and a man of the match performance by second rower and veteran Richard Blackmore that proved the difference.
The Marlins started with an incredibly strong wind at Ericsson Stadium, which they used wisely, outscoring the Sea Eagles three tries to one in the first half.
The first of the Marlins tries came from a clever William Heta grubber in the 8th minute, the lock forwards deft touch proving too good for Papakura throughout the 80 minutes. The try was converted by half Aaron Woodhouse to make it 6-0.
Ten minutes later and Manurewa were at it again, a long kick and good defensive set had the Sea Eagles on the back foot. A solid lead up and clever kick had Jeffrey Matai over for the Marlins second. The try was converted to make it 12-0.
With 20 minutes gone, Papakura were struggling to get out of their half and make any sort of threat on the Marlins line. Matters were made worse when Siunipa Tuifua was sin binned for the Sea Eagles with a quarter left in the half.
Manurewa looked like they?d taken advantage of the one man over lap, but offside calls from a Heta kick had Matai disallowed his second try. It wasn?t until the 31st minute that Papakura threatened Manurewa?s line and centre Airoe Boaza was unlucky not to score after being held up.
A composed set and Manurewa were back on attack deep in the Eagles half. A played at grubber gave the Marlins back to back sets which they made count.
Quick hands were the key in giving Glen Campbell the space to score in the right hand corner, Henry Heta and Richard Blackmore providing the assist for the try.
William Heta took over the goal kicking duties and managed to convert from the sideline, the ball ricocheting in off the left hand upright to give Manurewa an 18 point lead.
Sharp thinking from the kick-off provided Papakura with only their second point scoring opportunity of the half. Winger Tali Tuifua was brilliant, the bulky speedster receiving the ball from a tap penalty and running 20 meters through some soft Manurewa defense to give the Eagles their first try of the day and a six pointer.
The try gave Papakura a confidence boost and some much needed points going to the sheds 18-6 down.
It didn?t take long for the Marlins to find their form in the second spell, Blackmore providing the bust and the offload to fullback Bruce Anderson, who flicked on to Woodhouse who was tackled five meters short.
Blackmore charged into dummy half, where he dived over to score the fourth try of the day, three minutes into the half. The kick was successful by Heta and the difference was 18.
A strong defensive effort and some bone crushing tackles by second rower Jackson Crangle gave Manurewa further territory into the wind. Lock forward Heta, in the mould of a Scott Hill, was at it again, creating space and looping Matai to give Falani Autagavaia a try and another six pointer.
At 30-6 the Marlins were still hammering any Papakura player that moved, still showing desperation in their defense in the 70th minute.
With just over 10 minutes to go, Papakura began to show some urgency and kick into gear. The two weeks off in the finals proving a hindrance to the minor premier?s grand final hopes.
Some continued possession and a bull driving run from Manu Tawhi provided Isaako Hagaitoa with his first try for the afternoon in the left hand corner. Half Jamie Tupaea converted to bring them up to 12 points.
Two minutes later and the Sea Eagles Clayton Rogers busted the line after some clever interplay from stand-off Bishop Phillips and utility Frank Wade. The raging prop taking a wide line to beat the fullback and score to make it 30-18 with the conversion.
Their was a glimmer of hope for Papakura, with luck they were two tries away from taking the game to extra time. It wasn?t out of the question, minute?s later winger Tuifua broke the line only to be brought down in a try saver by Matai.
But with just over five minutes left, some Heta magic left Papakura for dead. The playmaker drew in three tacklers and gave space for stand-off Walter Hati to draw and pass to center Phillip Borrell for a 30 meter run to the try line. Hagaitoa scored a consolation try late in the piece to make it 34-24 and restore some pride in the Sea Eagles performance.
Few errors, control of the football and strong defense gave Manurewa a clear advantage and their first Fox Memorial title in their first attempt.
EVERYONE?S a critic, so they say.
THE Canberra Raiders Premier League team has entry to the hottest sporting event in Sydney this Saturday night, but they won?t be sticking around to watch footy. They?ll be there to play.
THE Orara Valley Axemen 7's 2006 is starting to shape up as a full international event. With teams from Japan, Tonga, Samoa, NZ Maori's, Cook Islands, USA, Malta, Fiji Bati, Fiji A, South Sydney, Sydney Bulls, Aboriginal Allstars, Armadale, Byron Bay, Sawtell, Guyra, Australian Based Maori's, Sydney Uni, Gimbisi Warriors and last years winners Lebanon.
ONE looks certain to win?one looks certain to lose?but both of the Sydney Roosters? lower grade sides have vowed to leave nothing in the tank in their quests to defend their 2004 titles.
ONE of rugby League's biggest questions has been answered tonight (Thursday, 22/09/05) with the Gold Coast launching their new name, the Gold Coast Titans, at Robina Town Centre in Queensland.
SATURDAY, 24th September 2005
WESTS Tigers Head Coach, Tim Sheens has announced his squad for the Wests Tigers v Dragons Game at Aussie Stadium, kick off at 7.45pm.
PARRAMATTA Eels coach Brian Smith has named his team to take on the Cowboys in Sundays Preliminary Final at Telstra Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Coach Smiths team is;
NORTH Queensland Cowboys coach Graham Murray has named his team to face the Eels in the Preliminary Final at Telstra Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Coach Murrays team is;
THE St George Illawarra Dragons are confident they will secure a Grand Final position against the Wests Tigers this Saturday evening.
YOU can rattle off any number of statistics in describing 2005 as the best season of rugby league on record, but you didn?t have to go any further than it?s heartland on Sunday to measure it?s biggest asset ? the fans.