Australian-born center Dylan Riley made a decisive effort in the 73rd minute on Sunday when Saitama defeated Panasonic Wild Knights Santori Sangoliath 18-12 in the opening final of the Japan Rugby League One at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
The 25-year-old Japan international, who was born on Australia’s Gold Coast, crossed the line near the end of an exciting final to give the Wild Knights a breathing space as they defended their status as Japan’s top club.
Riley is fast becoming the nemesis of Santori.
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Intercept’s goal-scoring effort in last year’s Top League final added five points on Sunday, setting the Wild Knights on a 31-26 victory over Santori.
A former U-20 representative from Australia, Riley’s acquisition and development represented a clever bit of hiring by Wild Knights coach Robbie Deans, who coached the Wallabies from 2008-2013.
Renowned for his ability to find and develop unrivaled talent, Dean brought Relay, Lock Jack Cornelsen and loose forward Ben Gunter to the club, concealing their relative identities within the Australian development system, making them two-time Japan Club title winners.
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All three players made their Test debuts for Japan last year.
Sunday’s title was Dean’s fifth with the Wild Knights, matching his five Super Rugby crowns with the Crusaders.
He won the Tri-Nations title and the Bladeslow Cup while with the All Blacks and later won Australia’s first tri-nation title in a decade as the Wallabies coach.
In addition to Riley, Wallabis winger Marika Koroibet, whom Dean brought to the club this year, was the star of Saitama.
Koroibete’s frequent burgling runs were only topped by his effortless run for the opening effort of the game, after being set up by Riley and Wild Knights fullback Ryuji Noguchi with flashy play.
Former All-Black star Damien McKenzie’s perfect boot put Santori in the game, with his fourth penalty in the 66th minute pulling his side into a point in the Wild Knights.
His opponent’s goalkeeper, Takuya Yamasawa, missed three of his six attempts, but Saitama Flyhoff was involved in the crucial moment of the match when he threw the ball out of Mackenzie’s hand as Santori was diving for the trilogy just before fullback halftime.
The ball bounced for free, and with it Santori’s title hopes were dashed as they failed to break through the well-organized Wild Knights defense in the second half of a 31-degree transmission.
The promotion / relegation series came to an end over the weekend, with Australia’s former international Israel Folau’s NTT Communications ending a disastrous season with Shining Arcs relegation as former Wallabis coach Michael Checker left their series with NEC Green Rocket Honda after a tie. Heat.
The Mitsubishi Dynaboars will replace the Shining Arcs in the top division next year.
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