Mako too strong but PIC Steelers impress in opener

The Counties Manukau PIC Steelers pushed defending Mitre 10 Cup champions Tasman hard but ultimately went down 41-24 in their season opener at Navigation Homes Stadium in Pukekohe Saturday.

Coach Tai Lavea’s side were given an early glimpse of just how strong Tasman are as the Mako stormed to an early 21-3 lead on the back of three converted tries including a double to hooker Andrew Makalio.

But the new-look PIC Steelers bounced back in the second 20 minutes to start dominating long periods of the game.

Lock Potu Leavasa scored a try on debut while All Black loose forward Dalton Papalii also dotted down in his first appearance for Counties Manukau.

The PIC Steelers went to the break trailing 21-17 with former All Black captain Kieran Read impressing in his first 40 minutes of competition rugby since February.

The 128-test World Cup winner grew up in the region and finally got to represent the PIC Steelers in the twilight of his glittering career.

“It was a very proud moment, it was really cool moment in my career,” he said after the match. “It’s come a bit late, probably later than what I expected, but nice to do it.

“It is shame [not being able to have full crowds]. 

“I had a lot of friends and family, who would have liked to have been here.

"My parents were here fortunately, so that was cool to have them come and watch.”

The Mako kicked free in the second half as the PIC Steelers were out-gunned by a side that went unbeaten last season and hasn’t lost a regular season fixture in over two years.

The home side gave the 400 fans that were able to attend the match under COVID-19 level 2.5 restrictions something to cheer about late as replacement forward Viliame Taulani scored just before the final whistle.

First-five Baden Kerr, skipper Orbyn Leger, loose forward Sam Slade and All Black prop Nepo Laulala all had strong games for the home side while veteran Bombay hooker Shaun Muir made a long-awaited PIC Steelers debut off the bench.

The PIC Steelers are on the road in week two as they travel to Napier to face fellow Championship side Hawke’s Bay next Sunday at 2.05pm.