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By Will Evans

The race for CRL Bartercard Mens’ Premiership finals spots tightened up with fast-finishing Hornby Panthers nabbing a crucial win and Northern Bulldogs going down convincingly at home in Round 11 of the Massetti Cup. Meanwhile, Linwood Keas, Halswell Hornets and Eastern Eagles consolidated the top three places on the table with big victories.

Hornby outlasted seventh-placed Celebration 22-12 at Leslie Park, but only after tries to Caleb Murphy and Allan Gillies provided the defending champs with some breathing space. The Lions had scored the opening try of the second half to level the scores at 12-all.

The result saw the Panthers claw to within two points of the fourth-placed Bulldogs, who were overwhelmed 34-4 by the in-form Hornets at Murphy Park. Long-serving centre Ken Tofilau scored two tries in the first half and fullback Jacob Nyman bagged a double after the break as the second-placed Hornets improved to a 9-2 record.

Hornby and Northern square off on Saturday in a pivotal showdown with three rounds remaining.

Eastern opened up a four-point gap in third spot courtesy of a 70-8 defeat of Papanui, with front-rower Uriah Esau cashing in for three of the Eagles’ 13 tries at Wainoni Park.

Linwood looks assured of finishing top of the table, going 11-0 with a 52-10 win over Riccarton. The Keas stormed to a 48-0 lead after Mika Moemalo Ulu scored his third try in the opening stages of the second half, but the Knights were able to stem the flow of points and peg a couple of tries back for themselves.

The Keas are four points clear of the Hornets, while the sixth-placed Knights are four points adrift of the top four and will need other results to fall their way to sneak into the playoffs.