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North Harbour finally have their reward

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Saturday, August 20, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

Conditions were perfect, and both sides unleashed some classic play, none better than the tries of wings David Raikuna for the home team and Bryce Heem for Northland. Each had a touch of class which allowed them to put their speed to great use.

The game also demonstrated the growing stature of diminutive North Harbour first five-eighths Ben Botica. He steered his side around the field with precision and kicked the goals that mattered en route to a 18-point haul.

Included in the contest was a fascinating battle between the respective locks. Filo Paulo and James King for the home team and Mark Burman and Bryce Williams for Northland. They made the lineouts a key point not only of possession, but also position providing some quality ball for their backlines to work with.

After giving away a spate of penalties which saw Northland fullback Lachie Munro land two penalty goals, North Harbour started to find their own momentum.

Indially, in the 14th minute, first five-eighths Ben Botica got his side on the board with a penalty goal. Then after he kicked a penalty to touch deep in Northland's 22m area, the ball was easily won by lock James King, who didn't even have to leave his feet at the front of the lineout.

It was moved to the backs where a series of rucks finally tied in the Northland defence to leave an overlap on the right and it was fullback Willie Walker who crossed, in the 17th minute for the opening try of the game. Botica's conversion gave North Harbour the lead for the first time.

Northland, at their next chance, opted to kick for the corner as well but the only reward, despite a series of pick and goes close to the line, was another penalty goal to Munro in the 26th minute.

A superb move which saw King standing off a ruck to find No.8 Mat Luamanu charging into a big gap took North Harbour to the line again. A penalty attempt at goal was forsaken for another kick to the corner, but try as the home team might they had to be satisfied with Botica's second goal in the 31st minute.

Another gap in the 35th minute saw halfback Chris Smylie provide space for a bullocking run by hooker Michael Mayhew. He was pulled down just short of the line by desperate Northland defence but in their desperation to score the home side conceded a penalty in front of their own posts.

North Harbour started the second half perfectly when from a mid-field ruck where play looked to be heading to the left, Botica demanded the ball on the right from Smylie. With the defence scrambled he ran to the defence, fed the ball to wing David Raikuna, and with his speed he cut three defenders to ribbons in scoring the try.

After Botica landed his third penalty goal, Northland stormed onto attack and after Smylie had an attempted clearing kick charged down from a ruck, five metres from his line, it appeared lock Mark Burman had scored, but a check with the Television Match Official revealed he had lost the ball over the line.

However, in the subsequent play North Harbour were unable to evacuate their 22m area and a scrum was taken as an option instead of a penalty by Northland and it was replacement No.8 Cam Goodhue who scored a simple try when the gap opened for Munro to add the conversion. However, moments later Goodhue had to leave the field after being downed when attempting to halt Luamanu on a charge.

A piece of class from wing Bryce Heem in the 60th minute stood up the home defence and created an opening through which he sped to give Northland the lead.

But proving that no team is more vulnerable than after a restart Northland were unable to halt replacement front rower Manu Leiataua as he was fed by Smylie from a ruck. Taking the tackle he off-loaded to Luamanu and while the goal-line was 30m distant there was no stopping the competition's leading tryscorer.

Scorers: North Harbour 33 (Willie Walker, David Raikuna, Mat Luamanu tries; Ben Botica 3 con,4 pen) Northland 26 (Cameron Goodhue try; Lachie Munro 2 con, 4 pen ). HT: 13-12