For the fifth straight year, the Akarana Falcons have taken out the NZRL men’s national premiership overwhelming the Counties Manukau Stingrays 64-18 in Saturday’s grand final at Trusts Stadium in Waitakere.
Powering the Falcons’ blitz were a number of players with Vodafone Warriors connections.
Leading the way in the opening stanza was Preston Riki, the club’s 2018 Vodafone Jersey Flegg player of the Year and Sonny Fai Medal winner.
The big forward shoved his way over for Akarana’s first try in the opening minutes and had the second in the same spot with the contest barely 10 minutes old.
Other former Vodafone Warriors players with under-20 or Canterbury Cup links included Francis Leger, Cole Waaka, Api Pewhairangi, Patrick Sipley, Ray Tuaimalo-Vaega, Casey Smith and Matiu Stone-Dunn and Michael Ki.
The Stingrays had a Vodafone Warriors flavour, too, in the likes of seasoned hooker Jethro Friend, Richard Toai and John Wesley Tauti but they couldn’t get a hold in the contest going to halftime 6-30 down.
After Riki’s opening salvo, the Falcons piled on the points with Leger scoring an impressive try and winger Sam Fa’apito crossing next to extend the lead to 24-0.
A Richard Holani try gave Counties Manukau a little cheer but the half closed out with right winger Tuaimalo-Vaega intercepting spectacularly near his line and racing 85 metres to make it 30-6 at the break.
Fa’apito had a second try early in the second half before the Stingrays countered with a Toai try.
Counties Manukau couldn’t match it for long, though, as tries continued to flow for the Falcons with Chase Bernard, Smith, Stone Dunn, Pewhairangi and Waaka all beneficiaries.
The season has been another triumph for the courageous Leger, whose playing career seemed to be over after breaking his neck in a tackle 12 years ago. The Akarana captain and veteran centre was named the national premiership’s overall MVP and was also awarded the MVP honour for the grand final.
Earlier the NZRL men's national championship grand final was taken out by the Northern Swords after they barely held on to edge the Otago Whalers 22-20 in a thrilling decider.