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Road to Premiership Final Guarded by Bulls

Thursday, September 22, 2016
Road to Premiership Final Guarded by Bulls

As the 2016 NZRL National Premiership enters its final stages, Canterbury Bulls seemingly hold the key to entry into the October 1 climax.

After defeating Wellington Orcas last weekend, the Bulls are back in the race and can progress to the title game by a variety of ways, but the most likely involve defeating the high-flying Akarana Falcons at home.

If Counties Manukau lose to Wellington, Canterbury would be home and hosed, but if the South Aucklanders prevail in the capital, points differential would break a three-way tie for the two spots.

If the latter eventuates, the Bulls, who have edged Akarana in their past two meetings, would need a big margin over their guests.

“We’ve tried to take all that thinking out of the boys’ minds,” says Canterbury coach Andrew Auimatagi. “First and foremost, we needed to get the win over Wellington, and we knew they would front up and play pretty well, especially compared to their first game.

“We know we were a bit off in areas, and we need to lift our game and produce our best against Akarana.

“We definitely need to control the ball better this week. If we hand the ball over to them, they have a pretty dangerous team that can punish you with it.”

The unbeaten Falcons have shown their ample attacking ability by stacking 60 points on the Orcas in their season opener and then rattling off 24 unanswered second-half points to run down the champion Stingrays last Friday.

“That was crazy,” chuckles Aiumatagi. “It was a bit of a surprise result, given the half-time score [24-6] and just shows that anyone can get the result on their day.

“Counties dropped off and the Falcons really produced.”

The Orcas/Stingrays fixture is scheduled first on Sunday afternoon, so Canterbury will know exactly what is required from them by kick-off at AMI Stadium.

But Auimatagi’s biggest challenge may be keeping his players’ minds focused on the process, rather than the outcome.

“We’ll be emphasizing to our guys that it’s about our performance. If we apply ourselves for 80 minutes the way we know we can, I’m sure we can turn the result in our favour.”

Meanwhile, the NZRL National Championship is headed for a culmination just as dramatic, if slightly more straightforward.

Southland Rams and Waikato enter their Invercargill showdown on Saturdayunbeaten, and the winners will progress to a promotion/relegation fixture as a curtain-raiser to the premiership final.

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Sunday, September 25
2pm, Porirua Park, Wellington (SKY Sport)
Wellington Orcas v Counties Manukau Stingrays

4pm, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Canterbury Bulls v Akarana Falcons

Saturday, September 24
4pm, Elles Road, Invercargill
Southland Rams v Waikato

Sunday, September 25
Noon, Canterbury Agricultural Park, Christchurch
Championship - Canterbury Development v Taranaki Sharks


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