Poised as a climactic "winner-takes-all" clash, the final round robin tie between the HEYTOUR Hawks and the ONEPURE Wolves was an opportunity for one of the two teams to claim a spot in the LEARNCOACH New Zealand Badminton League Grand Final next week.
With the Hawks holding an advantage on the standings table, the Wolves headed into the tie needing to secure an outright win of 4-2 or better, while a 3-3 draw would be sufficient to see the Hawks through to the grand final.
In a match that would not be out of place in the BWF World Tour, Olympic hopefuls Oliver Leydon-Davis and Anona Pak were ready to strike, hoping to make a strong start over the league’s undefeated duo of Abhinav Manota and Erena Calder-Hawkins. Leydon-Davis and Pak raced to an early lead, before a timeout from Hawks Coach, Tony Griffen, halted their run. The Wolves however resumed their relentless attack, claiming first blood for the Wolves.
Manota returned to court in the Men’s Singles against young Wolf, Josh Feng. Although Feng placed some brilliant shots, these occasional winners were not enough to overcome Manota’s experience, and the Hawks quickly levelled the tie 1-1.
Courtney Trillo, who has been growing week by week throughout the league, was on the hunt to add another win to her belt, after coming tantalisingly close to beating the Tigers' Sally Fu last week. Despite pushing the match into extension, the Wolves’ Catelyn Rozario could not break through Trillo's defence and determination, with the Hawks earning their second win and a 2-1 lead in the night.
The Wolves, known for their strength in the doubles, were looking to capitalise in the Men’s and Women’s Doubles to keep their finals chances alive. Wary of the situation, a fiery Dhanny Oud and Manota stunned the Wolves pair of Leydon-Davis and Evan Wong, picking apart the partnership as they raced to take the match in two clean games.
With the Hawks’ banking three matches, their place in the grand final was assured, however the Wolves were determined to not go quietly into the night.
Apalisok then returned to court with Feng taking on a new combination from the Hawks, with Ryan Tong joining Ng, for the final mixed doubles. Combining well, Apalisok and Feng steadily accumulated points to win the match 11-6 11-8, and confirming the tie would finish with an exhilarating golden game once again.
Coaches, Tony Griffen and Fanny Megahwati toyed with their eliminations, eventually settling on Men's Doubles as the Golden Game. Both teams elected to return with the same combinations as earlier in the night, with the Wolves hoping to overturn the result and seal a face-saving win for their team, after missing their chance to be in the grand final. Both teams were showing their nerves, with several unforced errors responsible for the first few points in the game, before settling into their work. Remaining neck-in-neck all the way to 9-9. the Hawks eventually secured the vital two points to win the tie.
The Crystal Ashley MVP was awarded to Courtney Trillo.
Full Match Details: OnePure Wolves vs HeyTour Hawks