A last-minute penalty saw Stoke squander the chance to enter the top four in the NPD Tasman Trophy, going down 27-25 to Renwick in a thriller at Greenmeadows on Saturday.
The round nine clash epitomised the ‘game of two halves’ cliche, the Eagles conceding a 15-point first half lead to remain just outside semi-final contention.
The hosts were without industrious openside Anty Burnett and centre Rupena Parkinson, stretching Stoke’s stocks.
Brian Bennett had the first chance at points, pushing his penalty shot wide before second five Charlie Chambers broke Stoke’s bagel after some mesmerising interplay.
Both sides showed some scintillating enterprise on attack and were each denied potential ‘tries of the season’, Renwick by a knock on and Stoke by the touchline.
Tomas Aoake and lock Isei Lewaqai were both lethal with the ball in hand for Stoke, running riot through the Renwick defence.
Naisa Taufa had a golden opportunity to put Renwick on the board, but the unmarked flanker spilt the pill with the line in sight.
Brad Pool then scored Stoke’s second after Lewaqai broke up the middle of the field from the base of the ruck, Stoke showed patience and shifted wide to the openside who crashed over in the left corner.
Jack Grooby missed the conversion but stretched the lead to 15 soon after with a penalty from right in front, as Renwick failed to register a point in the first forty.
Stoke’s dominance continued at the start of the second half as a long-range penalty attempt from Grooby fell just short of the crossbar, only for Chambers to charge the ensuing clearance and score his second try of the afternoon.
Taufa finally got Renwick on the board, making up for his earlier blunder by scoring off the back of powerful surge from centre Michael Vaenoa.
Vaenoa dotted down for the visitor’s second soon after, racing down the right flank to make it 22-12. Grooby extended Stoke’s advantage with his second penalty goal, however, Renwick’s backs were starting to cut the hosts defence apart.
Vaenoa’s stellar second half continued, brushing away several tacklers to complete a blistering brace and bring Renwick within striking distance. Renwick’s attack clicked into gear, only Stoke skipper Sam Chamberlain’s desperate scrambling defence denying powerful winger Kavekini Tabu.
Renwick had several chances to steal the lead but couldn’t make their final passes stick until halfback Chris Bolton dived over from the base to bring Renwick within two.
Bennett had the chance to take the lead for the first time in the game, but pushed the conversion wide. The green machine continued to hammer away at Stoke’s defence until the home side were eventually penalised at the ruck in front of their own sticks.
Bennett nailed the penalty to break Stoke’s hearts and hand the Nelson sub-union champions their fourth loss of the season.
The Stoke captain says he was very disappointed to let it slip away. “We just couldn’t get across the line today. Full credit to Renwick, they came back strongly at the end there and thoroughly deserve the win.”
He says they lost their structure in the second and may have been guilty of switching off at times.
“We will learn from this one.”
The gutsy fullback says they will not use their understrength squad as an excuse.
“It’s what we pride ourselves on, we back our depth, we will use this as motivation for the next two games and try to get back in that top four.”
In other results, Waimea Old Boys defeated Waitohi 42-34 in a high-scoring affair at Jubilee Park while Wanderers sneaked home against Central 36-33.
Nelson remains at the top of the table after beating East Coast 44-29 and Kahurangi enjoyed a 35-14 win over Moutere. Marist had the bye.