Waitohi will meet Central in the Marlborough division one rugby grand final next weekend, a repeat of the 2019 sub-union decider.
The finalists made their way to the “big dance” in contrasting fashion on Saturday.
Top-qualifier Central led all the way to account for Awatere 37-22 at Lansdowne Park, while Waitohi drew 21-21 after extra time against Renwick at Renwick, but progressed to the final due to the fact they had scored three tries to the home side’s two.
The match was locked up 21-21 at the end of regulation time, with neither side managing to add to their tally during the 10 minutes each way of extra play. The Green Machine came closest, hitting the post with a penalty attempt, and then being held up over the line in the final moments going for the match-winning try.
They had been awarded a penalty within kicking distance but opted to tap and run, rolling the dice at a key moment, then being denied by some heroic goal line defence.
The result was tough on Renwick, who played a major part in an epic encounter. They were within touching distance of the final as the minutes ticked down towards the end of 80 minutes, ahead 21-16 before Waitohi fullback Gannon Karena dived over in the corner to level the scores. First five Tim O’Malley’s wide-angled conversion narrowly missed, setting up the extra-time thriller.
Waitohi led 11-10 at halftime in a match of contrasting styles, Renwick spreading the ball wide to the edges, in an attempt to create space inside while their rivals adopted a more physical approach.
When called on, both sides produced notable defensive efforts, often repelling repeated waves of attack.
Outstanding in the pack for Waitohi were Taine Cragg-Love, Losi Malimali and Taimi Fangatua, the former a menace at the breakdown, the latter duo carrying powerfully.
O’Malley provided a cool head behind the scrum while Karena handled the custodian’s role with aplomb.
Front-rowers Sione Lonitenisi and George Tuineau were prominent for the home side, along with loosies Josh Holdaway, Cody Weir and Kurt Schollum. Kyle Marfell was the rock in the Renwick midfield while fullback Michael Dillon showed all his skills at the back.
Waitohi player/coach Jimmy Giles was an exhausted, but happy, man after 100 minutes of action.
“You couldn’t ask for a better result from our end but, what a game … a semifinal that goes 100 minutes and the final act of the game to win it is held up over the line … unreal.
“Renwick are a well-structured team … we knew we had to be on our game and take them on up front. They made us work for everything.”
Although it took until the 80th minute to score the match-levelling try, Giles said there was always belief among his charges.
“That’s one thing we have tried to bleed into our culture, don’t let the scoreboard put pressure on you … it’s just about being in the game and in those big moments.”
Next Saturday Waitohi will endeavour to win a three-peat of premier titles, one of the side’s early season objectives, but will find a resilient, well-organised, unbeaten Central side in their path.
They led Awatere 17-10 at halftime and continued to exert pressure, both territorially and in the possession stakes, making the most of the opportunities that came their way.
Awatere coach Kaleni Taetuli said the match hinged around a couple of key moments in the second half when his side “lost their concentration and discipline”.
“That allowed Central to get back down the field and they capitalised. I was impressed though with the way our guys kept fighting to the end.”
Outstanding for the Blues were winger Nigel Satherley and flanker Braden Stewart, while midfielder Sione Vea and loosie Jack Roberton impressed for the Tussocks.
One can only hope the Government change the rules to allow more than a handful of spectators to enjoy the action. Although a few supporters were allowed to watch today’s games from the sideline, and they certainly made their presence heard, nothing compares to a full grandstand and some boisterous club rivalry.
Waitohi 21 (Taimi Fangatua, Tim O’Malley, Gannon Karena tries, O’Malley 2 pen) Renwick 21 (George Tuineau, Sailasa Leqeti tries, Michael Dillon 3 pen, con). HT: 11-10 Waitohi.
Central 37 (Jesse MacDonald, Peter Vakaloa, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Nigel Satherley, Solomoni Vecena tries, Mitch Smith 2 pen, 3 con) Awatere 22 (Sione Vea, Tiko Ono Levu, Heath Forsyth tries, Franco Quinones pen, 2 con) HT: 17-10 Central
The division two semis were both contested at Lansdowne Park today, top-seeds Central thumping Moutere 69-5 while Awatere got up 21-18 over MBC Old Boys.
Central and Awatere will contest next weekend’s division two final.