Swindale Shield round three: For this week's teams click here:
It's been seven seasons since Oriental-Rongotai wonder duo Ma'a Nonu and Roy Kinikinilau dazzled the Wellington club rugby community with their dynamic double act. The year was 2002 and the pair was running rampant across the rugby fields of Wellington. Between them, Kinikinilau, at the time a No. 8 and soon to become an international Sevens star and Super Rugby winger, and Nonu, then as now a blockbusting midfielder feared by many, scored 22 tries between them during the season and set up countless more for their teammates.
That season Ories very nearly won the Swindale Shield playing the type of explosive, exciting rugby that Norths became renowned for over the next few seasons, before fading to finish out of top four contention for the Jubilee Cup. In fact, in their first round Swindale Shield game against Norths in 2002 Kinikinilau scored two tries in a 34-22 win at Porirua Park. Six weeks later at the Polo Ground Ories prevailed in their return Jubilee Cup clash with Player of the Day Nonu directly setting up two of his team's three tries in an epic 18-17 victory.
The following year, 2003, saw Norths and Ories finish first and second respectively in the Swindale Shield - Ories winning their round two head to head encounter 34-13.? Later that winter 2,500 people packed a freezing Porirua Park to witness a Christian Cullen-inspired Norths beat Ories 10-8 en route to the Jubilee Cup semi-finals at the expense of Ories who finished seventh.
Subsequently this great rivalry between the two clubs took a dip over the next four seasons as their fortunes went in different directions. Norths won the Swindale Shield again in 2006 and 2007 and the Jubilee Cup in 2004 and 2006 and Ories languished in the bottom half of the competition and played in the Hardham Cup every year from 2004-2007.
However last year there was a rejuvenation of sorts at Miramar, with Ories finishing comfortably inside the top eight at the end of the Swindale Shield and again making the Jubilee Cup round where they won three games from seven and finished sixth.?
This season Ories have started well, earning consecutive wins over Wainuiomata (26-8) and Upper Hutt (34-32). With a big and powerful front row backed up by one of last year's hottest Wellington B representative players in Mark Reddish, a playmaking, goal kicking first five-eighth in James Proctor, and new talent out wide?in Julian Savea?the signs are all there for an Ories resurgence in 2009.
In contrast, Norths find themselves in an unfamiliar winless position after the opening fortnight of Swindale Shield action, albeit their losses have been to fellow big guns and title contenders Poneke and Petone, and both defeats largely due to their own defensive lapses at crucial times than poor form. Indeed, there's no need to push the panic buttons at Porirua yet, but their fans will nevertheless be anxious for them to win this week against Ories when they meet at the Polo Ground ahead of their opening home game in round four.
For a reminder of what their team can do to opposition teams, they need look no further than their stunning 44-0 win over Ories the last time they met in last year's Jubilee Cup round, also at the Polo Ground. Leading just 5-0 after 35 minutes in a tough, bruising encounter, Norths' battery of dangerous backs suddenly clicked into gear and they scored three lightning tries in almost as many minutes to extend their lead to 27-0 just after halftime.
However, three of the key players that did the damage that day, Sinoti To'omaga, Daley Harper and Rob Aloe, will be missing from this encounter. To'omaga is now playing for Toulon in France, Aloe is in England and Harper is absent, presumed in the Counties-Manukau region. Throw in new New Zealand U20 player Buxton Popoali'i and Henry Smith (both injured) and no less than seven current Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs Super 14 players and Norths have been stronger. Although this is offset this week by the return to the starting lineup of last year's outstanding No.8 Anare Koliavu, while former New Zealand U19 hooker Nathan Fotuali'i has re-joined their ranks in 2009 from Tasman.
Meanwhile in other round three Swindale Shield games this Saturday, the winless Wests Roosters will be searching for something to crow about against unbeaten Petone in their first home game of the season at the Cage at Ian Galloway Park. Unlucky to lose their first two encounters to Hutt Old Boys Marist and Old Boys-University in the shadows of fulltime, the Roosters will have need to play well to beat an impressive Petone side.
There promises to be plenty of passion at Fraser Park where winless Avalon and Wainuiomata meet, both desperate for competition points to kick-start their seasons.
Old Boys-University travel to Kilbirnie Park to play Poneke who will be?playing to win?both the Beet Algar Rosebowl played between these sides and the Bill Brien challenge Cup that they won off MSP last week, MSP host Tawa over the road at Evans Bay Park and Hutt Old Boys Marist and Upper Hutt square off at the Hutt Recreation Ground.
In Senior One Harper Lock Shield action, early leaders MSP play defending champions Johnsonville in the Premier curtain raiser at Evans Bay Park at 1.15pm. It's Old Timers' Day at Delaney Park and Stokes Valley welcome Petone at 3pm, while Rimutaka and Paramata-Plimmerton meet at Maoribank Park, also at 3pm.
In the Senior Two National Mutual Cup, unbeaten teams Tawa play defending champions MSP at Cobham Park at 1.15pm and HOBM host Johnsonville at the Hutt Recreation Ground at 1.15pm.
The feature game in round three of the Fleurs Trophy Women's Premier grade is between early leaders Northern United and OBU at Porirua Park at 11.30am.