NPC: Canterbury to face Northland as quarterfinalists confirmed

Braydon Ennor heads into space during Canterbury’s 27-21 win over Otago in their NPC match on Saturday night. Canterbury will play Northland in their quarterfinal in Christchurch next weekend. Picture: STUFF SPORTS.

As Canterbury staggered their way to an unconvincing 27-21 victory over Otago in Dunedin on Saturday night, you had to ask one question.

Is this side good enough to win the NPC? Because if Canterbury are to win this competition – they must beat Northland in their Evens conference quarterfinal in Christchurch next Saturday to remain in the title hunt – they might want to continue their preparations with a few pointed questions.

Despite having already qualified for the playoffs before they arrived at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Canterbury almost fell off a cliff inside the enclosed arena.

Had No 8 and captain Billy Harmon not earned the visitors a breakdown penalty at the death, as Otago mounted another attack inside their red zone in an attempt to keep their season alive, his side could have suffered an embarrassing defeat.

Yet, somehow, Canterbury survived. Regardless of what unfolded during the frantic and unpredictable spectacle – Josh Ioane’s long-range drop goal attempt, which smacked into a surprised team-mate, was proof – it would surely be reckless to believe Canterbury, the only team to suffer just one defeat this year, won’t be a menace in the sudden-death phase.

Because that scare against Otago was a reminder to them of how destructive complacency can be at the sharp end of the season.

Northland ensured they could delay their Mad Monday post-season party by beating a tenacious Manawatū 41-24 in a pulsating encounter at the picturesque Kaikohe ground on Sunday.

The win ensured the Taniwha bounced over Tasman into fourth place in the conference, the latter having stumbled at the final hurdle after losing 25-17 to Hawke’s Bay on a wet and miserable evening in Napier on Friday night.

One of the big talking points during Auckland’s comeback 38-24 win over Taranaki at Eden Park on Saturday was the sight of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the No 14 jersey – not the No 12 one he was originally listed to play in.

That could, potentially, be a win-win for all parties if Tuivasa-Sheck is given starting opportunities on the All Blacks’ tour of the northern hemisphere later this month.

The man known as RTS also put to bed speculation about his future, saying there was no chance of him returning to the NRL after former All Black Sir John Kirwan suggested he was on the Sydney Roosters’ shopping list for the 2023 season.

“Hey team, hearing a return to NRL and Sydney Roosters. As much as I enjoyed it there, I won’t be heading back. Signed sealed delivered till the end of 2023,” Tuivasa-Sheck said on his Instagram story on Saturday night.

It’s clear Tuivasa-Sheck remains determined to lock down a spot in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad. First, though, he needs to bolster his confidence and keep blotting up every iota of knowledge in the 15-man game, and should be an automatic starter for when Auckland play North Harbour in their Evens quarterfinal.

Auckland were given a decent fright by Taranaki, too. The men from the Naki led 17-3 at halftime before the blue and whites finally picked up their act. The arrival of All Blacks prop Angus Ta’avao in the second spell was a major plus for the home side’s scrum.

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