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Dominant Kia Ora Warriors hold off Linton Cobras to end title drought
By George Heagney, Manawatu Standard
The Linton Cobras did everything they could to knock over favourites the Kia Ora Warriors in the club rugby league grand final, but to no avail.
Kia Ora won Saturday's final 40-28 at the Arena, but not after getting a second-half scare from Linton.
The Warriors have been the form team all season and looked just like it in the first half, overcoming a hard-running Linton forward pack to be up 24-8 at halftime.
But after halftime Linton came out firing, helped by Kia Ora's faltering completion rate, to level things at 24-all going into the last 20 minutes.
Kia Ora finally woke up in the final stages and grabbed three late tries to seal their first title win since 2008.
Even though Kia Ora coach Peter Butler had what he called a few heart flutters during the second half, he was happy they were given a good test, in a season where the competition's depth has been poor.
"I'm glad that we won the game and obviously the good thing was Linton brought it to us," he said. "They ran hard, played hard and turned it into a really good contest.
"It was great to have a game like that."
Butler said they kept Linton in the game in the second half by making too many errors.
Once Kia Ora stopped giving away penalties and making errors, they got back in the game.
Linton coach Ray Warner said it was a game of two halves, but they made too many errors in the first spell.
"We thought we were going to nick it all the way to the end," he said. "But you just can't start like that in a grand final."
Warner said after he had a word to the team at halftime they came out a lot better, but couldn't carry it on.
Kia Ora only scored one more try than Linton with seven, but it was the almost-perfect boot of Kia Ora standoff Taylor Haimona that kept them in front.
Haimona kicked six from seven conversions, a lot of them hard kicks, and the only one he missed hit the post.
Linton started the game strongly, scoring the first try and props Pita Marshall and Henning Petersen were making big metres.
But then the Kia Ora's defence tightened up and they started to find space as they ran in four first-half tries.
After the break Linton took advantage of Kia Ora's lack of completion and came storming back into the game.
Kia Ora halfback Jahlon Governor was yellow carded for a shoulder charge and Linton scored two tries while he was off the field.
But once Kia Ora were restored to 13 men they got things working again.
Linton centres Nikolao Iaone, who scored a hat-trick, and Tevita Faukafa, who grabbed a double, were both threats, breaking the line out wide.
Petersen had a massive game with his strong carries and hooker Leo Tanginoa was sharp.
Young prop Wesley Veikoso kept charging all game for Kia Ora and back rowers Johnny Kerrisk and Zane Warbrick were strong in defence.
Bench forward Daniel Timoti made a big impact.
The game was shifted from a wet Fitzherbert Park to the drier Arena.
Kia Ora Warriors 40 (Awatere Kiwara 2, Taylor Haimona, Corey Governor, Pare Tapiata, Zane Warbrick, Hoeata Maxwell-Blake, tries; Haimona 6 con) Linton Cobras 28 (Nikolao Ioane 3, Tevita Faukafa 2, Solomua Falemai, tries; Ioane con, Hayden Lovie con) HT: 24-8.