Good teams find a way to win.
When North Otago was down by two points with 10 minutes to go, and had just conceded a couple of penalties in front of its posts, most of the crowd was resigned to thinking it was game over.
But the players believed – and when Thames Valley turned down a penalty attempt at goal, North Otago booted the ball upfield, regained possession and forced a penalty with time up on the clock.
crowd, Robbie Smith nailed his fifth penalty of the game and gave North Otago a 22-21 victory.
North Otago is now the only unbeaten side at the halfway point of the Heartland Championship round robin, as previous table leader West Coast closed out their streak with a 36-18 loss to Whanganui.
North Otago made most of the play in Saturday’s game, with Thames Valley’s three tries all coming from mistakes made by the home side.
In greasy conditions, the Old Golds made several handling errors, but stuck to the task defensively, forcing Thames Valley to kick the ball to the dangerous Patrick Pati and Taina Tamou who, alongside Lemi Masoe, were the most dangerous of the backs.
North Otago might not have the biggest forward pack in the competition, but it is built on hard work and players were tackling just as hard at the end of the game as at the start.
“I think we might have used our get-out-of-jail free card there,” North Otago coach Jason Forrest said of Saturday’s game.
“But hey, the ticker, the resilience the boys showed to be under the pump on our own goal-line 76 minutes into the game and get down the other end and win – I’m stoked.
“We still aren’t doing it pretty, but we are still doing it and that’s the main thing.”
North Otago turned over the ball several times trying to offload, but Forrest said he wanted the players to keep trying things.
“Once those last passes stick, we are lethal. The boys just need the confidence.
“I say to the boys ‘if you have a big reason for throwing it, I’m OK with that’.”
Tomorrow, North Otago takes on third-placed West Coast in Greymouth.
The Coasters have a big forward pack and North Otago will look to shift the ball around, Forrest said.
“They are a good side. They have been our bogey team the last three years. We haven’t played well over there.
“This season is all about changing things and we are going to have to front up.”
The game kicks off at the slightly earlier time of 1.45pm at John Sturgeon Park.
North Otago team to play West Coast
Ralph Darling, Sam Sturgess, Meli Kolinisau, Charles Elton, William Kirkwood, Jacob Coghlan, Marcus Balchin, Josh Clark, Robbie Smith, Lachlan Kingan, Taina Tamou, Sam Tatupu, Lemi Masoe, Howard Packman, Patrick Pati, Hayden Tisdall, Kelepi Funaki, Josh Hayward, Manulua Taiti, Anthony Arty, Clement Gasca, Matt Vocea