Li's five tries see North Harbour swamp Taranaki

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Sunday, October 15, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Li was in destructive mood with his fifth and final try, scored two minutes from the end, the most graphic demonstration of his latent speed which, when blended with the contributors around him like fullback Shaun Stevenson, centre Matt Vaega, who helped himself to yet another intercept try, seven minutes from the end, and first five-eighths Ben Volavola, was more than the inexperienced Taranaki side could handle.

North Harbour scored 10 tries to five, only one of them by a forward, captain and hooker James Parsons, while it was their first win over Taranaki since 2007.

The top qualifiers opted to rest their most experienced players while North Harbour were at near full-strength in conditions marred only by a strong south-west breeze. Which selection option was best with next week's semi-finals in mind will be seen when North Harbour travel to Christchurch to play Canterbury while Taranaki will host Tasman in New Plymouth

North Harbour adopted a wide-passing approach with Volavola, filling in for the injured Bryn Gatland, firing out ball as if it was lolly scramble time. That produced the first try after five minutes for halfback Bryn Hall, who was rewarded for support play, after great work on the outside by Stevenson and second five-eighths Daniel Hilton-Jones.

Five minutes later more long-passing off a Taranaki turnover saw Vaega step his way towards the line and give the chance for Li to score.

Taranaki thought they had crossed for a try for wing Jackson Ormond in the 13th minute but his earlier pass to halfback Kylem O'Donnell was ruled forward.

Back downfield, North Harbour worked the ball through seven phases before Stevenson found himself in open space for an uncontested try.

A lineout move in the 23rd minute saw prop Chris Eves stationed at second five-eighths and it was his delicate, but precise, inside pass to Li that opened vast acreage in front of the Taranaki goalposts and he eased down several gears in crossing for his second.

There was respite for Taranaki after good work by second five-eighths Daniel Waite who ran into a good hole to create a chance which wing Declan O'Donnell needed no second invitation to take and score.

Young first five-eighths Ciarahn Matoe, who scored 18 points, learnt it was better to hold onto the ball in the tackle rather than try an unnecessary off-load when he dropped the ball only to see Li swoop and run in his hat-trick try with only 31 minutes gone.

Taranaki weren't without their own spirit and used it to score two tries in four minutes just before halftime and it was an injection from fullback of Charlie Ngatai which gave the thrust which Waite utilised to create a movement which ended with prop Jared Profitt charging over, then an in-field kick by Ormond saw Kylem O'Donnell secure it and allow Matoe to score in the corner.

Wing Matt Duffie was able to cross from his side of the field to the left to be on hand after Li and Volavola did the set-up work to score.

Set-up work by Taranaki centre Johnny Fa'auli in the North Harbour goalmouth created a chance for flanker Adrian Wyrill to score a bonus point try.

Any Taranaki hope of sneaking up on North Harbour were quickly extinguished when a Matoe midfield kick was taken by Stevenson who fed a perfect ball to Volavola whose line opened up the chance for Li to score his fourth try of the day.

Scorers: North Harbour 64 (Tevita Li 5, Bryn Hall, Shaun Stevenson, Matt Duffie, Matt Vaega, James Parsons tries; Ben Volavola 5 con; Todd Doolan 2 con) Taranaki 33 (Declan O'Donnell, Jared Profitt, Ciarahn Matoe 2, Adrian Wyrill tries; Matoe 4 con). HT: 33-19