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Rennie's Kobelco Steelers in shocking tumble out of top four

Marika Koroibete of Saitama Wild Knights celebrates with teammates after scoring the team's third try during the preseason match between Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights and Chiefs at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium on February 4, 2024 in Kumagaya, Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

Marika Koroibete returned to form with two tries while Dave Rennie’s Kobelco Steelers tumbled out of the top four in the latest round of Japan Rugby League One, which concluded in Hygo today.

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The Wallaby winger had scored just twice prior to yesterday, but his tries, along with another double by Brave Blossoms centre Dylan Riley – who has 12 for the season – were among seven scored by Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights in their latest romp against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars.

Having been belted 81-21 earlier in the season, the Dynaboars at least shaved 28 points off that concession by losing 53-12, but the fact they have conceded 18 tries against the unbeaten league leaders in 160 minutes of playing time will sting as they contemplate the remaining four matches of their programme.

Former Wallaby coach Rennie and his Kobe charges will also be hurting after going down to third-placed Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath 36-27 in an error-strewn performance today which saw first half yellow cards to All Black Brodie Retallick and fellow Kiwi Tiennan Costley, alongside the concession of five tries in a defeat more conclusive than the scoreboard suggests.

Match Summary

2
Penalty Goals
3
3
Tries
5
3
Conversions
1
0
Drop Goals
0
97
Carries
140
7
Line Breaks
9
12
Turnovers Lost
8
3
Turnovers Won
6

Having dropped as low as eighth after three consecutive defeats earlier in the season, Kobe had been resident in the top four since early March, and now face the ominous task of beating second-placed Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo on Sunday to retain control of their semi-final prospects.

Despite the loss of Springbok star Cheslin Kolbe to a worrying knee injury early in the second spell, Suntory were always in control of the game, consolidating their hold on third, although they are seven points behind Brave Lupus, whom they will need to come unstruck if Sungoliath are to avoid the Wild Knights in the semis.

The Wild Knights beat Sungoliath in the finals of each of the final Top League and the maiden Japan Rugby League One.

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The title defence of Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay, who beat the Wild Knights in last season’s decider, is almost certainly over after they were beaten on the bell by Brave Lupus, falling to their seventh defeat of the season.

They are now 11-points behind fourth.

In a frantic finish, a try on fulltime by ex-All Black centre Seta Tamanivalu, converted by his former Crusaders teammate Richie Mo’unga, saw Brave Lupus get home 22-20, despite having never been in front before the All Black flyhalf’s final kick.

Today’s win moved the Todd Blackadder-coached Brave Lupus to within a win of the playoffs.

They are 12 points ahead of the fourth-placed Yokohama Canon Eagles, who leap-frogged the Steelers on the table after a routine 31-12 win over Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo on Saturday.

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Shizuoka Blue Revs (sixth, 29 points) and Toyota Verblitz (seventh, 29 points) kept their faint semi-final hopes alive with wins over Mie Heat (43-14) and Hanazono Kintetsu Liners (47-30) respectively.

All Black scrumhalf Aaron Smith was a try-scorer for Verblitz while Hanazono’s Quade Cooper saw yellow in the final minute for dangerous play.

Shizuoka winger Malo Tuitama, who is the competition’s leading try-scorer, added two more to take his tally to 14.

His haul was overshadowed by a remarkable performance in Division Three where veteran South African Conrad van Wyk led his side to a promotion-sealing 46-22 win over Kurita Water Gush Akishima, scoring three tries among a 31-point haul.

A former Lions player in Super Rugby, the 36-year-old is now the leading point-scorer (143) and try-scorer (10) in the division.

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