A Sam Briggs penalty with time up on the clock saw Marist salvage an exhilarating draw and retain the Baz Leary Trophy at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.
A brave Stoke side outscored Marist three tries to two and led for the majority of the contest, but were unable to hold off a late onslaught by the Tasman Trophy champions.
Stoke lock Isei Lewaqai looked to have sealed the result for his side with two pieces of individual brilliance, before he was sent to the bin with less than five minutes remaining and a tenpoint lead.
Marist took full advantage of the extra man, Rahiri Witereha going in under the bar for his second to set up the blockbuster finish.
Coach Gavin Briggs says he was screaming at his son Sam to take the points as Marist were awarded a penalty with time up on the clock.
“We knew we only needed a draw to retain the cup and that’s all we wanted to do.”
Gavin admits there were some nerves as Sam lined up the kick, but the young first five coolly slotted the points from 35 metres out in front of the posts.
“I had full faith in him.”
Gavin says they knew it was always going to be a tough game, but they were their own worst enemies.
“We made simple mistakes, which they capitalised on as good teams should.”
Witereha opened the scoring after setting his side alight with a blistering break. Taine Robinson responded with a penalty before Briggs put Marist 10-3 ahead.
However, the Stoke fly half would sneak over the line just on the brink of halftime with a smartly taken quick tap.
Lewaqai rumbled his way to the try-line to give Stoke the lead just after the break. The Fijian bulldozer then gave his side the lead as he made a storming surge up field, Crikidaveta finishing off the movement in the left corner.
Marist looked dead and buried at 23-13 with time ticking away, but the green machine hammered away in the final five.
Lewaqai quickly went from hero to villain as he was shown yellow after repeated Stoke infringements.
Witereha scored from the ensuing scrum after a clinical set piece move. With the final play of the game, Te Puoho Stephens made a powerful break from the kickoff before Marist were awarded the crucial penalty.
“It showed real character for our guys to come back and tie it up,” says Gavin.
He says it means a lot to the club to retain the Baz Leary cup for the fifth consecutive year.
“Baz is an old stalwart of Stoke and Marist and very good friend of quite a few of us, to have it stay in our cabinet means a lot.”
Elsewhere, Wanderers’ unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of Kahurangi with a 35-14 win in Brightwater while Nelson are still yet to get on the board as they went down 41-12 to Waimea old Boys.
Marist 23 (Witehera 2 tries, Briggs 3 pens 2 cons) drew with Stoke 23 (Crikidaveta, Lewaqai, Robinson tries, Robinson 1 cons 2 pens) Kahurangi 35 def Wanderers 14 Waimea 41 def Nelson 12