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A top-of-the-table showdown finished in a nail-biting draw, while Hornby Panthers landed a crucial blow in the top-four race as the CRL Bartercard Men’s Premiership regular season gets down to the business end.

Tough conditions across the city for the Massetti Cup Round 12 fixtures set the scene for three gripping, close-fought and low-scoring encounters.

Unbeaten ladder leaders Linwood Keas and second-placed Halswell Hornets played out a 10-all slog at Linwood Park. The Keas held a two-point advantage at halftime through tries to Fabricius Sua and Daniel Hartley.

But in a try-less second half, Jamie Nuttridge’s late penalty goal earned the Hornets what could prove a valuable competition point in a tight battle for second spot.

Eastern Eagles pulled to within one point of the Hornets with a 10-8 victory over Riccarton Knights at Crosbie Park.

The sixth-placed Knights staked a claim for a desperately needed win by racing out to an 8-0 lead after an early try to Solomone Leka, but the Eagles cut the halftime deficit to two points with a touchdown to Uale Peneli.

Eagles fullback Jesse Wihongi crossed for the only try of the second half, which was enough to secure a gritty win for the visitors.

In the weekend’s most pivotal match, Hornby Panthers drew level with fourth-placed Northern Bulldogs courtesy of a 16-10 win in the teams’ Leslie Park clash.

The defending champs led 12-0 at halftime thanks to tries to Allan Gillies and Tony Afoa, but the Bulldogs clawed back to within two points after Taniela Leka and Cameron Godfrey scored. Denis Davey’s late try clinched a crucial result for the Panthers.

Seventh-placed Celebration Lions chalked up their second win of the campaign via a 60-6 defeat of Papanui Tigers. The prolific Leka family had a big influence on the scoreboard, with lock Kasi scoring three tries, winger Joel dotting down for a double and prop Kyle picking up a four-pointer.

The Bulldogs remain ahead of the Panthers on for-and-against but face a tough remaining draw against the Eagles and Keas. The Panthers’ last two games are against the Hornets and the bottom-placed Tigers. The Knights are four points back with a significantly worse points differential but are still an outside chance to sneak into the finals with games against the Tigers and Lions to come.