The Counties Manukau PIC Steelers scored five tries to four, coming away with a 31-all draw against Bay of Plenty in an intense match that kept spectators on the edge of their seats at Tauranga Domain on Sunday afternoon.
Bay of Plenty started the game dominating the first stanza but the Counties defence stopped multiple waves of attack from the hosts. The Steelers used three clearing kicks to stop tries but the Bay finally got five points when front rower Sakalia fell over the line with the ball in hand from a charged-down exit kick. The try was converted by Mike Delany to give Bay of Plenty a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
After turning the tide and attacking more, an unfortunate dropped ball by the Steelers was pounced on by Hepetema from BOP who crossed the line with Delany converting it to give BOP a 14-0 lead. BOP would have been frustrated not to have a bigger one.
The Steelers started to find their groove with the forwards camping out on the BOP line with Steelers loose forward Fotu Lokotui getting close to scoring. He finally got across the chalk on his second attempt with Baden Kerr converting to narrow the margin.
Fullback Tim Nanai-Williams on the high of the birth of his daughter in the early hours the day before made some impressive breaks and with the help of Lokotui got the Steelers closer to the line. Augustine Pulu collected the rewards for his side when he dived over the top of the bodies with the ball in hand. Baden Kerr added the extra’s to even up the score with five minutes left on the clock in the first half.
The Bay responded and headed straight to their end of the field. Counties showed strong defence against 15 phases but BOP were rewarded with a penalty for their efforts to take a 17-14 lead.
Having lifted their attacking game, the Steelers were threating the line again from a Sam Henwood break and came close to the line with Augustine Pulu hot on attack before being stopped by the referee calling obstruction to signal the break.
In the second half, the PIC Steelers struck first with the forwards holding the ball near the line. Halfback Augustine Pulu mixed it up with a huge pass to the side line to Orbyn Ledger who did a simple draw and pass to stand-out winger Albert Nikoro who ran over the line, giving the Steelers the lead for first time in the match.
The Steelers scored again when winger Nigel Ah Wong scored down the side from a Sam Henwood turnover which put the Steelers on attack with numbers out wide. Nikoro impressively kept the ball in play by flicking it inside for Ah Wong to score the PIC Steelers fourth try.
Bay of Plenty quickly responded heading down to their line but Augustine Pulu turned the ball over with Kerr providing the clearing kick.
It was a match-up of old foes when Stephen Donald replaced Kerr to face Mike Delany. Bay of Plenty evened the score line when they approached the Steelers line and were rewarded with a try to Foketi after some impressive footwork, which Delany converted.
The Bay scored from a five metre scrum with Parete, under penalty advantage going over with Delany converting to give the hosts a 31-24 lead.
After an impressive game, halfback Augustine Pulu was replaced by Liam Daniela who scored off a powerful run from Steelers reserve Viliami Taulani. Donald added the conversion to level the score with only a handful of minutes left to play.
It was a heart stopping last spell. The Bay had the chance to take lead with a penalty from 40 metres out which Delany missed. They were rewarded another penalty and opted to put the kick into touch near the 22. Delany tried the drop goal but cramped up and missed. Counties had one last attack in the 82nd minute of play but the referee called a forward pass by the PIC Steelers to end the game at a 31-all draw.
The Counties Manukau PIC Steelers host Northland next Sunday at 4.35pm at ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe.
Bay of Plenty 31
Tries: Sakali, Parete, Hepetema, Foketi
Cons: Delany 4
PIC Counties Manukau Steelers 31
Tries: Lokotui, A Pulu, Ah Wong, Nikoro, Daniela
Cons: Kerr 2, Laulala