Nearly 1000 kilometres separates Nelson and Invercargill on the map but only two points separated their rugby league teams on Saturday.
Tasman Titans head coach Phil Bergman credited the team’s spirited culture as it came back from a six point deficit at half time to secure a 26-24 win over the Southland Rams in the South Island Inter-district Championship final.
“We went off our game plan a little and we weren’t doing things the way we should have been. That was a hard game and it shows in the scoreline. It was as close as you can get,” says Phil.
The Titans were the first team to get on the scoreboard when Hayden Smith landed an early penalty, but that was cancelled out when Tom Watts of the Southland Rams ran in for the first four pointer of the game.
Shaun Taulangi-Todd and Stacey Mikara also dotted down for the southerners as the Titans struggled to string sets together.
James Vailanu hit back for the Titans before standout centre Callum Smith ensured the side would only be trailing by a converted try heading into the half-time break.
Tasman looked more focussed in the second half and it only took five minutes for Hayden to score under the posts, despite suggestions he may have knocked the ball on when crossing the paint.
The see-saw affair continued throughout much of the second spell with Matt Birch and Callum trading tries for either team. But when a Southland player was sent to the sidelines for ten minutes, momentum swung in Tasman’s favour.
Emotions blew up on the sideline when a linesman ruled a Southland player to have stepped out in his attempt to push the Rams back into the lead.
The Southland coach was given his marching orders and was forced to sit in the grand-stand for verbally abusing the linesman following the decision.
Things only got worse for Southland when Freedom Walker put the Titans in front just minutes later.
With the scoreboard telling the crowd time was up, it looked unlikely that Southland could come back from a six point margin. However, the Rams managed to find a hole down the left hand side and give the kicker a chance to equalise. His conversion attempt went wide and the Titans were crowned victors.
Phil says the win highlights Tasman’s growth in rugby league circles.
“We are the top of the South Island, we have technically gone unbeaten because the Canterbury game was wiped and from here we want to be the dominant force in rugby league.”
The rugby league season is officially over for the Tasman Titans but Phil is already looking towards the future and had his fingers crossed that a national provincial championship could be included in the New Zealand Rugby League calendar in years to come.
The result caps off a great year for the sport in Nelson and Tasman with the Richmond Rabbits winning the club competition earlier this year.
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