St Paul's College has returned to the top of secondary school rugby league in Auckland, edging out Kelston Boys’ High School 23-20 to win the SAS College Rugby League grand final on Saturday.
The title marks a return to dominance for the perennial heavyweight, which surrendered both the Auckland and national titles to Kelston last year.
A first-half double to eventual man of the match winner Sean Tofa-Timoteo did much of the damage, while St Paul's captain Beau Cordtz stood up with his kicking game and moments of individual brilliance in attack.
Earlier Kelston had made its intentions clear just four minutes into the game, spreading the ball wide and outnumbering St Paul's on the right edge of the field, where centre Fong Tali crossed.
An Austin Masiutama conversion established a 6-0 lead.
Expansive footy was on the cards from both sides but errors late in tackle counts ensured there was no change to the scoreboard.
On 15 minutes St Paul's was able to force back-to-back sets from which hooker Tofa-Timoteo took full advantage, racing to dummy half, then looking right before darting left and falling over the line. Cordtz tied the game up with his successful conversion.
The lead was soon Kelston's again, with St Paul's caught spending too long in the tackle and Masiutama electing to take the shot at two.
Kelston showed it had remembered nothing from conceding the earlier try from dummy half, leaking a near carbon copy of it on 22 minutes as Tofa-Timoteo went over for his second and gave St Paul's a 12-8 lead at the break.
Kelston's start to the second 25 couldn't have been any worse with Masiutama kicking out on the full on the opening set, gifting its opponent a scrum 30 metres out.
Seconds later Kelston was 8-18 after Cordtz ran the ball from second receiver from the scrum, throwing a dummy and darting 30 metres to score between the posts before adding the extras as well.
Heading into the final 10 minutes Cordtz booted a drop goal to make the gap 11 points, only for Kelston to strike back almost immediately through a barge over to prop Setefano Maava, which interchange man Tairelle Parker converted.
But just as Kelston was starting to get a sniff of a late comeback St Paul's squashed it with a try of its own at the other end via James Manoa.
With two minutes left and St Paul's sitting on a nine point lead the game looked over, but Masiutama had other ideas.
Showcasing brilliant vision he grubbered in behind the defensive line on halfway for chasing fullback Delaney Chaney-Puata, who scooped it up and outran his opposite number to the line.
With Parker converting the gap was back to three, and St Paul's looked in huge trouble when Cordtz kicked the ensuing restart out on the full, gifting Kelston a penalty on half way.
Some hot potato footy followed but in the end a knock on in the middle of a desperate Kelston spread marked the end of the game and the return to the top of Auckland school rugby league for St Paul's.
After the match St Paul's coach Phil Sargent, who has been with the school's team since 2002, said it was a victory built on defensive pressure early in sets.
“We put a lot of emphasis on the first three tackles in defence. We pushed that in the first half and put them under pressure, then they kicked the ball out on the full or turned it over which gave us better field position,” he said.
“We were composed, completed our sets and played some good structured football.
“We are pretty happy with the result. It was a bit close in the end but we are happy with how the boys played.”
St Paul's College 23 (Sean Tofa-Timoteo 2, Beau Cordtz, James Manoa tries; Beau Cordtz 3 goals, field goal).
Kelston Boys’ High School 20 (Fongi Tali, Setefano Maava, Delaney Chaney-Puata tries; Austin Masiutama 2 goals; Tairelle Parker 2 goals).
St Paul's College: Uasi Leota; Joseph Taungakana, Samuel Filimoetu, Sione Fakapelea, James Manoa; Daymon Abbey, Beau Cordtz; Sione Ngahe, Sean Tofa-Timoteo, Zephaniah Aerenga; Soane Hufanga, Asalemo Usumanu; Taniela Masake. Interchange: Viliami Otuafi, Letuituia Eliu, Francis Tanuvasa, Manatu Kafoa. Coach: Phil Sargeant.
Kelston Boys’ High School: Delaney Chaney-Puata; Emosi Alamoti, Pauli Sefo, Fong Tali, Carlos Henry; Wyatt Rangi, Austin Masiutama; Setefano Maava, Justus Leaoseve, Xavier Tutaki; Whitiora Kennedy, Mosese Faeamanu; Utah Ioka. Interchange: Tairelle Parker, Vinnie Lafotanoa, Aiden Ioane, Alex Sele. Coach: Phil Gordon.