It's crunch time for a number of teams in tomorrow’s sixth round of matches, with Norths, Oriental-Rongotai and Wainuiomata all at risk of being eliminated from contention in the Jubilee Cup; while at the top end semi-finalists could start to be confirmed as well. Last year 19 points got teams into the playoff, will it be the same or similar this term?
Then there’s this week’s inclement weather, and what effect that will have.
Tomorrow is also another special day on the local rugby calendar, with the second “Ruck Cancer” day promoting men’s health. Put together by former Poneke winger Evan Belford after the passing of his friend and clubmate Misiluni Moananu in 2015, all players from each of the 14 Premier teams plus the match officials in those games will be wearing purple socks as part of the initiative.
Old Boys-University (20 points)
Remaining: Wainuiomata (A), MSP (A)
All the Goats need for playoff qualification and to ensure that they aren’t caught in a similar situation to last year is two competition points; however they’ll be after much more, targeting top spot and with it the Andy Leslie Trophy. Having avenged one of their two Swindale defeats last weekend against Ories they’ll be looking to do the same again to Wainuiomata at William Jones after they beat them at Kelburn Park. A win there will mean that regardless of results elsewhere they’ll be assured of a home semi-final (as well as taking the Bill Brien Challenge Cup with them), and only the who-plays-who to be sorted in their last round meeting with MSP. A loss tomorrow could still put those plans in jeopardy.
The team for tomorrow is almost unchanged; the only one is Matt Goosen returning to the side but on the right wing with Regan Verney continuing in midfield. They’ll again look to Finnbarr Kerr-Newell and Jonathan Fuimaono to set the platform, and Teariki Ben Nicholas’ battle with Wainuiomata’s Ben Tupuola could be a highlight.
Marist St Pat’s (16)
Remaining: Norths (A), OBU (H)
With HOBM having lost three in a row and Tawa saddled with their points deduction MSP sit second and will be somewhat buoyed by fighting back from 14 points down to get a draw against Wainuiomata, obviously tempered by the dismissal of their skipper Isaac O’Connor just before halftime. While in the box seat for a home semi-final they face a tricky trip to Porirua to face Norths at Jerry Collins Stadium who turned in arguably their best performance of the year, and a loss tomorrow could conceivably put them into must-win territory against OBU in the last round.
MSP gets their usual skipper Valentine Meachen back tomorrow, while O’Connor has escaped further sanction and switches to the blindside with Corey Lawrence on the other flank. They’ll be without Billy Proctor who is on Hurricanes U18 duty with Jay Cameron taking his place, and there’s firepower on the bench with Matt Peni and Isaia Petelo who returns from injury.
Hutt Old Boys Marist (13)
Remaining: Petone (H), Tawa (H)
Three weeks ago the Eagles were sitting pretty, but the narrow loss to OBU was followed by another to MSP before they were well-beaten by Norths on Saturday. While still in a strong position they do need to right the ship, and have to do that without their conductor Sheridan Rangihuna who remains suspended. Fortunately tomorrow they host the side at the bottom of the table at the Hutt Rec, but the flip side to that is that it’s their great rivals from across the river in Petone who won their earlier McBain Shield contest 49-31 on the same ground. A win and results elsewhere could put them into the playoffs; a loss puts them at the mercy of others, including their last round opponents Tawa.
In Rangihuna’s absence 208-game veteran Nick Risdon makes his first Premier start of the season in amongst a host of changes with Ben Power, Lui Okeamoa-Luamana, Fereti Soloa, Izzy Foai, and Ope Peleseuma all returned to the starting XV, and Brandyn Laursen switches back to fullback.
Remaining: Ories (H), HOBM (A)
Tawa’s win over Petone saw them join HOBM on 13 points, though if not for their points deduction they’d be second behind OBU. Their destiny still remains in their own hands including hopes of a potential home semi-final, but face another stern test when Oriental-Rongotai visit Lyndhurst tomorrow. As with the teams above a win keeps them sitting pretty but a loss could make it a must-win next weekend against HOBM, and that’s without considering the lottery of needing other results.
TJ Fermanis joins the 100 club tomorrow, making three Tawa club centurions in their side tomorrow alongside Matt Treeby and Randall Bishop (plus Peniasi Tokakece, Telea Seumanutafa and James So'oialo with 100 plus including caps for other clubs) and ike OBU they make just one change with another experienced head in Seumanutafa replacing Folau Vea on the side of the scrum, and outside back Sharn Robinson plays his blazer (30th) game.
Northern United (11)
Remaining: MSP (H), Wainuiomata (H)
Norths are also battling to overcome a points deduction, in their case two for their Colts defaulting three weeks ago. Last weekend’s win over HOBM saw them turn back the clock to the glory days of 2010, and a tantilising glimpse of what they’re capable of. Both of their remaining games are in the comfortable surrounds of the Jerry Collins Stadium, but arguably they need to win each of them to make the playoffs. That starts with tomorrow’s visit of MSP – where they’ll need to be better than their 14-50 loss in the Swindale – before they host Wainuiomata need weekend.
They make a handful of changes for tomorrow; Jordan Mellars-Rose comes in on the wing and Jerome Va’ai, Nathan Fotuali’I, and Quaid Martin-Laumatia into the tight five. Their destructive loose forward trio remains intact, and last Saturday’s hat-trick man TK Bishop again lines up on the wing.
Remaining: Tawa (A), Petone (H)
Ories might own the longest current streak of making the playoffs at six – having done so every year from 2011 – but have plenty of work to do to extend that. Like Norths two wins probably gets them in but it’s another tough trip into the city’s northern suburbs to face Tawa at Lyndhurst first, before they return home to host Petone in the last round.
The Magpies have made a host of changes. Captain Whetu Henry returns to the pack where there are no fewer than five different faces; only Xavier Numia, Ola Vaai, and Luca Rees remain from last Saturday’s starters. In the backs Trent Renata makes his first Wellington club start, with Hayden Whelan switching back to fullback.
Remaining: OBU (H), Norths (A)
Wainuiomata will see last Saturday’s home draw with MSP as something of a missed opportunity, and as a result are in must-win territory. Their assignment tomorrow is current leaders OBU at home at William Jones – with the benefit of having beaten them already this year – and if successful there they could be in a win or go home match with Norths next Saturday. If they go down though against the Goats, next weekend might not matter much.
Their side for the clash against tomorrow against the Goats again names Teru Time in midfield though he was a late scratch last week, Jalan Ferris returns to the side of the scrum, and Dion Lealofi to the front row. Assistant coach Dan Farani is named amongst the reserves.
Remaining: HOBM (A), Ories (A)
Bottom of the ladder, the Villagers are out of contention sitting 10 points behind fourth and with other teams between them and that yet to play each other. That doesn’t mean that they can’t play spoiler and would probably like nothing more to upset HOBM again, who they play tomorrow, before moving on to finishing their season against Ories at the Polo Ground next weekend.
Veteran pair Eugene Smith and Marcus Roil return to the front row, as do skipper Mateaki Kafatolu and Jim Morgan in the loose forwards. Ngarangi Haerewa makes his first Premier start in the #10 jersey, but the other name of interest is outside him where Dan Kirkpatrick lines up for his first appearance in Petone colours since 2012.
While the Jubilee Cup nears the end of round-robin play, the Hardham Cup has just passed the halfway point of its format, tomorrow teams start meeting for the third time this year.
With their win last weekend, Johnsonville (23) have moved into top spot and tomorrow head to the one ground where underfoot conditions won’t be an issue when they run onto the Fraser Park artificial to take on home side Avalon (7). The Hawks will be looking to make sure they don’t slip up having taken the lead, and are largely unchanged but Kane Thompson is one of those absent. Avalon have considerably more changes particularly in the forward pack, and are without Asafo Aumua after his starring role last weekend.
The Upper Hutt Rams (22) nearly snatched a late win from 0-21 down to Johnsonville last Saturday, only to come up short and concede the competition lead to their rivals. They make the journey over the Haywards to Ngati Toa Domain to face Paremata-Plimmerton (1), who are still looking for the first win on the year. The hosts get the influential Blake Neve back though he’ll line up at first-five rather than fullback, with the team looking to start better than they did against Wellington. For the Rams Hayden Schrijvers moves out to first-five with Paddy Gluck starting behind the scrum.
The third game is back in the city with neighbours Wellington (10) and Poneke (14) meet. Originally scheduled for Hataitai Park, it’s no surprise it’s been moved around the corner to Kilbirnie Park. The Axemen make a couple of changes to the side that ran away from Pare-Plim, one of those the return of veteran lock Simon Shearer, while Pakai Turia is back in Poneke’s starting side after coming off the bench.
All seven Premier clashes kick off at the usual time of 12.45pm.
Unsurprisingly the weather and resulting council ground closures has had a significant and disappointing impact on other grades with the wholesale cancellation of First Grade, Under 85s, Reserve grade, and Presidents grade for this week, and a significant number of alterations elsewhere. In addition to the change of venue for the Wellington v Poneke Hardham Cup match the other changes are:
HOBM v Petone – now Hutt Rec #2
Wainuiomata v OBU – now at Mary Crowther Park at 12.45pm
Tawa v Ories – now at Te Whaea at 12.30pm
Pare-Plim v Upper Hutt – now at Porirua Park #4 at 12.45pm
Wellington v Poneke – now at St Pats artificial
Ories v MSP – now at St Pats artificial
Norths v Wainuiomata – now Porirua Park #3
HOBM v Poneke – now at Te Whaea at 11am
HOBM v Petone – now Hutt Rec #3
Norths v MSP – now Porirua Park #3
Pare-Plim v OBU Green – now Porirua Park #4 at 2.45pm
Tawa v Ories – now at Te Whaea at 2.45pm
Upper Hutt v Wellington – deferred until later date
Kapiti v Poneke – now at Te Atiawa Park