Above: Open spaces for Tawa centre Pepesana Patafilo in last week's win over Northern United. Several teams are hoping to break free tomorrow in the first of three rounds over the next week.
Updated: At the top end the compressed part of the schedule has rolled around, with tomorrow’s round followed by another on Anzac day on Tuesday, and then again when normal service resumes next Saturday. The remaining grades don’t face the same workload but don’t expect any let-up from them either. With mainly fine weather forecast conditions should be ideal for running rugby.
As is normal for this time of year clubs are into their Old Timers’ Days, with festivities on at both Wainuiomata and the Upper Hutt Rams tomorrow.
Without any disrespect to the other 12 teams, the blockbuster clash is at Nairnville Park where Marist St Pat’s venture into suburban Khandallah to face unbeaten leaders Old Boys-University and one can guess that parking around Lucknow Terrace will be at even more of a premium tomorrow.
The Goats will be looking to run their Swindale record to a remarkable 18 wins from their last 19 games, while the visitors will be able to leapfrog the hosts if they’re successful. OBU make just a pair of changes – Marino Mikaele-Tu’u is off on NZ U20 duty and replaced by Morgan Poi, while Regan Verney makes way in midfield for Hurricane Wes Goosen who pairs up with older brother Matt; and there’s a couple of notable names on the bench in Agustin Escalona and Ian Kennedy. MSP’s lineup features several changes from the side that beat Johnsonville – Valentine Meachen, Ha’amea Ahio, Isaac O’Connor, and Fa’atonu Fili all return while the interesting selections are Corey Lawrence at No. 8 and Jack Taulapapa at halfback ahead of Peter Sciascia who is on the bench.
There will be a pair of trophies at stake tomorrow, both held by OBU. One is the Bill Brien Challenge Cup which OBU will defend for the first time after taking it from Petone last week and MSP looking to regain it after they lost it to the Villagers earlier this year; with the other the interclub Jack Lamason Cup. Lamason played his club rugby for Wellington College Old Boys and made representative sides in both rugby and cricket – in the latter sport he toured England in 1937 with the national side. The trophy was originally played for between WCOB and St Patrick’s OB and has passed onto the respective successor clubs; it is held by OBU after their 23-19 win early last season, but MSP handed them a lesson in the Jubilee Cup match winning 49-19.
Gordon Noble-Campbell will have commentary of this game on Radio Sport at 1503AM, joined this week by former All Black captain and University loose forward Graham Mourie. This will be simulcast on Te Upoko on 1161AM on the dial.
There’s a second top-five match, out in Wainuiomata where second-placed (and also unbeaten) Oriental-Rongotai are the visitors to William Jones Park. The home side have made something of a habit of winning in the last moments of matches with last week’s win over the Upper Hutt Rams fitting that template, but would probably rather do so with some breathing space instead. To try and achieve that tomorrow they’ve made a swag of changes with Tutasi Masoe and Cameron Ross restored to the flanks and Jason Love back on the left wing.
The Magpies prevailed in an arm-wrestle in the Hataitai mud against the Axemen, with the margin perhaps not reflective of the exertion but will be wanting to keep their record so far intact. Poasa Poasa shows his versatility switching to tighthead with both Whetu Henry and Alex Fidow (U20s) absent with Lauina Fa’atau – a minor celebrity for his goal-kicking exploits for the B-team – at loosehead. Hayden Whelan’s return at fullback is the only backline change, while Luke Tau’alupe and Ambrose Curtis given them some firepower in reserve.
With those four in battle amongst themselves, there are opportunities for the others to make up some lost ground in the race to make the Jubilee Cup.
After falling from the unbeaten ranks last weekend, Northern United could potentially find themselves back in second place depending on other results, but would need to beat Avalon on the artificial at Fraser Park to make that happen. The Wolves will be out to not only put a crimp into Norths’ Jubilee Cup aspirations, but to put on a better performance than their last outing on the turf, a 0-43 drubbing by HOBM.
John Bradbrook and Errol Weston will be in charge at home for the first time, having taken over from Aaron Falloon who stepped down for family reason before last week’s draw with Pare-Plim. Their side tomorrow gains one veteran with lock Akuila Alatini making his first start for the year, but loses another with Cameron Cross absent with Jordan Aquila sliding back to fullback. As is somewhat customary for Norths their side has a number changes and amongst tomorrows is the inclusion of Chris Middleton for the first time this year and Antony Fox restored to openside, while in the backline Leon Ellison moves into the #10 jersey.
Hutt Old Boys Marist are another side looking to put some breathing space between themselves and the eighth-place dogfight, and make the trip to Helston Park to face Johnsonville. The home side Hawks are back at home for only the second time this season so far and although buoyed somewhat by making things difficult for MSP last weekend will be out to take down one of the bigger-name sides.
Perhaps with one eye on Tuesday’s tilt against MSP the Eagles have made a number of changes with the eye-catching inclusion of James O’Reilly at hooker, playing for his former club on release from the Hurricanes where he is injury cover. Ben Power switches to No. 8 while the only backline change is on the wing where Blake McGregor swaps in for the competition’s leading try-scorer Fereti Soloa. Johnsonville bring back Levi Kemp at 10 and Dane Robertson returns at centre this week to replace veteran Jeff Makapelu, but will be without their top points-score so far, Tiwi Davies.
Another side making a return home after three weekend's away are the Upper Hutt Rams, who welcome Paremata-Plimmerton to Maidstone Park. The Rams trips away proved fruitless, losing heavily to MSP and Poneke before being pipped last weekend by Wainuiomata and they’ll be desperate for a win to keep in touch with the Jubilee Cup fight.
The visitors will be buoyed somewhat by last week’s draw, but that will be tempered that if their execution had been better they may have had an unassailable lead by half-time. Injuries force a few changes with James Dean, Hayden Stirrat, and Ulutoto Malu all starting with Tainui Parata running the cutter at 10.
The leafy surrounds of Lyndhurst Park play host to two sides currently sitting around the eighth spot. Tawa have won two on the trot after their difficult start to the season and despite injuries to key players the signs are that they’re getting their mojo back after wins over Wellington and in last week’s local derby against Norths. Petone are the visitors and will be looking to get back into the winners circle after a draw and a close loss in the last two rounds at home, albeit against Ories and to OBU respectively where those three competition points could still prove valuable.
Both sides will be without their starting halfbacks from last weekend with both Kemara Hauiti-Parapara and Carlos Price away the NZ U20’s; Ben Stephens comes in for the home team with the visitors opting for 100+ gamer Jared Kahu. Amongst Tawa’s other changes U19 rep Folau Vea gets his first start at No. 8 in place of TJ Fermanis (who joins the lengthy injury list), both Telea Seumanutafa and Tavita Logovae will start on the bench, and Ben Lam is away on Hurricanes. The Villagers hand a debut start to Jonny Sykes in midfield while Aleks Noble-Campbell starts at fullback.
The final match of this preview is between two of last year’s Jubilee Cup sides that find themselves at the wrong end of the table and each in need of turning their fortunes around. Both hosts Poneke and visitors and near-neighbours Wellington have just a solitary win from their first five matches, and each suffered home losses last weekend. It’s not really much of stretch to say that the next eight days could easily determine where they play in the second half of the season.
The home side will again look to their pair of representative flankers in co-captains Galu Taufale and Greg Foe to lead the way, and along with No. 8 Jarrod Bryan their battle with Axemen trio of Sam Gard’ner, Sam Tuala, and Terry Soli could be pivotal in the match’s outcome, as could the contest in midfield where Levi Harmon and Ivan Vaisagote match up against Olly Sapsford and Paddy Hughes who played his blazer (50th) game for the Axemen last weekend.
Aside from valuable competition points and confidence, the two sides will also play for their interclub Ray “Spud” Lindsay Memorial Shield. Lindsay played for Poneke and was later a committee member and coach, and briefly in charge of the senior team until replaced by a returning Vic Calcinai in 1958. Lindsay then moved up to the road to the Axemen where he served in a number of roles until his death in 1973, with the trophy donated that year. It is held by Wellington after their 35-13 win in last season’s Swindale.
All seven matches kick-off at the usual time of 2.45pm.
As with the Swindale Shield, the feature match in the Harper Lock Shield is at Nairnville between OBU and MSP, with both sides likely looking to keep pace with leaders HOBM who head to Helston to face second-bottom Johnsonville. Norths and Tawa will also look to stay in touch with the top end of the table when they visit Avalon at Fraser Park and host Petone at Lyndhurst respectively.
Wainuiomata and Oriental-Rongotai meet in matchup of mid-table teams at William Jones Park, the Upper Hutt Rams and Paremata-Plimmerton clash at Maidstone, and Poneke will look to keep Wellington winless when they host them at Kilbirnie.
All games are scheduled for 1pm kickoffs.
In the two Division 1 Fleurs Trophy clashes Wainuiomata and Hutt Old Boys Marist take to Mary Crowther Park, with each looking for their first win with HOBM losing away to OBU, and Wainuiomata surprisingly well-beaten last weekend. The other match is at the Polo Ground where after a week off Oriental-Rongotai resume action and host Old Boys-University.
The Division 2 games have Marist St Pat’s taking on Petone on Kilbirnie #2, while Poneke head north to face Paremata-Plimmerton at Ngatitoa. All four matches kickoff at 11.30am with Norths and Tawa having the respective byes.
After the knockout competition to get the season underway the Age Grades start in earnest this weekend. In the Division 1 Paris Memorial Trophy defending double champions and knockout winners OBU Green host Marist St Pats at Te Whaea, while knockout runners-up the Upper Hutt Rams welcome Poneke to Maidstone. Norths and Oriental-Rongotai play for the second time in as many weekends, albeit this time at Porirua Park, while Tawa host Petone – who have been elevated from Division 2 at the expense of Wellington – at Redwood Park at 12.45pm.
In the Division 2 JRD Cup matches it’s also a 12.45pm start for Johnsonville and HOBM at Newlands Park, Paremata-Plimmerton head north to face Kapiti at Paraparaumu, MSP B and OBU Black meet on the St Pats artificial, and Wainuiomata welcome Avalon to Mary Crowther, with Wellington having the bye.
Unless stated, all matches are 1pm kickoffs.
The third-tier sides conclude their season-starting knockout, with just the four games scheduled. In the Division 1 final Norths ‘A’ and Petone – who should be contenders at the championship end of the year – meet at Porirua Park, with the corresponding bottom-four match scheduled for the Hutt Rec between HOBM and Norths ‘B’.
The two Division 2 clashes have Johnsonville hosting Stokes Valley ‘B’ at Newlands Park in the top four decider with the Upper Hutt Rams and Poneke Ruffnuts taking to Maoribank Park in the bottom-four game.
All four matches are 2.45pm kickoffs
The lightweights also finish their knockout this weekend, and like First Grade there are just four games on. In Division 1 Eastbourne’s reward for tipping over Tawa is to host the top-four final with the Avalon Wolves the visitors to HW Shortt Park. The bottom-four match is at Te Whaea with the OBU Bunnies facing Johnsonville, both at 2.45pm. In Division 2 HOBM take on the Kapiti side at the Rec in the top-four game also at 2.45pm, with the bottom-four match between the Upper Hutt Rams and Poneke in the earlier 1pm timeslot at Maoribank Park.
Elsewhere the Reserve Grade gets underway with a Gala Day at Ian Galloway Park featuring a series of 20 minute games, while the two Upper Hutt Rams sides play each other at Maidstone as part of the clubs Old Timers Day. And after an aborted start two weeks ago the President's Grade should belatedly be able to take their unique form of social warfare to Wellington’s grounds from this weekend.