2021 Waikato vs Tasman - Premiership Final

Bunnings NPC Finals: Top Seed Taranaki, Titleholder Tasman Aim For Crowns

Bunnings NPC Finals: Top Seed Taranaki, Titleholder Tasman Aim For Crowns

The top prizes in New Zealand provincial rugby are upon the horizon and up for grabs.

Nov 16, 2021 by Briar Napier
Bunnings NPC Finals: Top Seed Taranaki, Titleholder Tasman Aim For Crowns

The top prizes in New Zealand provincial rugby are upon the horizon and up for grabs.

It’s been a unique and adversity-filled season in the Bunnings National Provincial Championship (NPC), with COVID-19 restrictions across the country throwing a wrench in many plans and even resulting in several clubs having to withdraw from the competition. But the show went on and will culminate in two thrilling finals this weekend, contested in both the second-division Championship and top-flight Premiership.

Plan to break out the coffee early (or stay up later) to watch the playoff finals stateside on FloSports this weekend? Look no further than below to know what to expect heading into the championship games.

Taranaki Vs. Otago

Championship Final

When: 1:05 a.m. Eastern Time, Friday

Where: TET Stadium & Events Centre in Inglewood, New Zealand

Taranaki

The Championship’s No. 1 seed and top performing team overall in provincial rugby, the Bulls are white-hot and look unstoppable, going undefeated in the competition while romping its way to 302 total points on the season. A run of form like that is much easier to do when you could have the competition’s top overall player in first five-eighth/fullback Stephen Perofeta—who dwarfs the rest of the field with 160 total points scored, 47 above his nearest foe—and a total of five former All Blacks on the roster. After being relegated from the Premiership in 2018, Taranaki will aim to take the next step toward reestablishing its former glory as 2014 Premiership champions by gaining a second-division title. The only downside is that a win wouldn’t promote them back to the top flight as the normal format was scrapped this season due to COVID-19 restrictions. Nonetheless, the Bulls will look to cap an unbeaten season off with a bang by following up on its rematch with Otago from Week 6, in which Taranaki scored a late seven points to win 30-23. 

Otago

Otago started the season 1-3 and looked in danger of falling down the pecking order and out of the playoff conversation, but two Auckland-based teams in the Championship—Counties Manukau and North Harbour—had withdrawn from the competition after being declined a COVID-induced travel exemption from the capital. Therefore, Otago just needed to be a top-four seed of five to make it to the playoffs, to which it improved results and got a surefire third with 20 points while avoiding a contentious battle between fourth-place Southland (13 points) and fifth-place Northland (12) for the final spot along the way. Otago made use of its position by beating No. 2 seed Manuwatu in the semifinal with a 44-point blitz, giving it a shot at the Championship title against the mighty Taranaki. Its matters are helped by the fact that no one appears to know how to stop wing Freedom Vahaakolo from scoring at the moment, as the 24-year-old has scored five tries in his last three matches. That included a double of tries in the semifinal rout of the Turbos as his recent form has rocketed him to the top of the Championship’s try scoring charts.

Waikato Vs. Tasman

Premiership Final 

When: 1:05 a.m. Eastern Time, Saturday

Where: FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand

Waikato

The Mooloos get to play in their home stadium again this weekend just in time for the biggest prize in New Zealand provincial rugby. Parts of the Waikato region had been under COVID-19 restrictions from the government for most of the season, leaving the union to have to relocate to Bay of Plenty. It’s good that Mooloos fans will get a proper homecoming, too, because the squad has been high flying for three straight wins as it aims for its first Premiership title since 2006. Nine-time champions Canterbury were knocked off in the semifinals as Waikato held its foe to a season-low 14 points, a good sign considering the Waikato defense had allowed the most points (264) of any Premiership team in the regular season. It got first-half tries from Rhys Marshall and Bailyn Sullivan to push Waikato to its first final since 2011, but those two make up just one part of a Mooloos attack that has one of the top try scorers in the competition in wing/first five-eighth Liam Coombes-Fabling, who has tallied seven scores on the season. 

Tasman

The Mako pulled off the stunner of the competition when it upset Premiership favorites Hawke’s Bay in the semifinals, which hadn’t lost since Week 1 and had by far the league’s largest point differential throughout the season at plus-83. But Tasman, the two-time defending Premiership champions, have a loaded squad in their own right that knows what it’s like to capture silverware. Tasman got vengeance for its 34-22 defeat to Hawke’s Bay in the regular season by rocketing off to a 10-0 lead inside 10 minutes in the semifinal and holding firm, with the No. 4 seed going to have to get revenge again against the Waikato—the Mooloos won 39-22 in Week 4—to make it a triple of successive titles. No player in either division of provincial rugby has scored more tries in 2021 than Mako wing Leicester Fainga’anuku, with the Tonga-born 22-year-old tallying eight tries throughout the year to pace the field. He earned sole possession of top spot by notching a try in the semifinal in Napier, crossing the line in the 69th minute for a crucial five points that helped Tasman slip away from the Magpies and into the final.