By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle
For Dave Hoskins Carriers Marist, literally and figuratively, the holidays are over.
Coming off a bye week at Easter, the fourth-placed city team have had good reason to be pleased so far with 2014 after their struggles of last season, having secured fourth spot with three wins.
However, the vagaries of the Tasman Tanning Premier draw mean the relatively young squad have played all four bottom-of-the-table sides and now face a daunting month against all the 2013 semifinalists.
It starts against defending champions McCarthy’s Ruapehu at Spriggens Park tomorrow.
Like any good general, Marist coach Jason Hamlin has got his troops focusing on the immediate battle, but in private he is making plans for the overall campaign.
“I’ve been preaching to the team they can’t look too far ahead – it’s the next game,” he said.
“To play Ruapehu requires a different game than Pirates or more so Taihape, because they play two different ways. [Tomorrow] will be a pretty good gauge of where everything is.”
Young first-five Grayson Tihema was looking for the doctor’s clearance on his concussion last night, although if given the all-clear he may be saved till next week.
This is tough flanker Bradley Graham’s last round before heading for Australia, although Hamlin was pleased to see centre Mohi Waihi back from across the Tasman and at this stage likely to stay.
Sean Brown is still carrying an injury and his steady hand will be crucial for the young backline.
Young Shayden Phillips, Rory Gudsell and Sam Monaghan are talented but the grind of the next four weeks will take a toll.
“I’m pretty confident they’ll do well, I don’t want to put too much pressure on them,” said Hamlin. “They’re still kids, going to play against men the next month or so.”
If Marist want a good showing against Ruapehu, now is the time in this awkward period between two long weekends, many teams do not have their full playing roster available.
Waverley Harvesting Border will play Marist in three weeks but that game could not be further from coach Ross Williams’ mind right now.
Having just snatched the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield from Taihape on Good Friday, Border will be undermanned when they face 2014’s Jekyll & Hyde team of Harvey Round Motors Ratana at home at the Pa.
No8 Ray Stark’s ribs are still not right while fellow Taranaki import Kieran Hussey is away, as are giant prop Kamipeli Latu and mercurial fullback Fraser Middleton.
As Border have the bye in the last weekend of each round, while they played their opening five games without much pre-season buildup, Williams wants to secure as many competition points as possible in this crucial three-week period.
“I’m happy with where they’re going. We haven’t had the same 15 week in, week out, but I dare say I’m not the only one with that.
“It’s testing the depth, but there’s no excuses.”
Much will fall on the shoulders of representative halfback Lindsay Horrocks, while Williams continues to cover stopgaps by using his speedy goalkicker Sikeli (Bobo) Ulukuta out wide, despite the young man proving himself in the pack.
“My opinion is he is a loose forward, but you’ve got to put guys where is best for the XV and right now that’s the wing, because like any country club there’s flankers for Africa.”
In the other matches, Utiku Old Boys will have their all-new Fijian contingent on show when they take on the unbeaten Integrity Motors Pirates in Taihape.
Samu Kubunavanua, Michael Nabuliwaqa, Semi Radradra and Malakai Volau have all joined the Utiku squad in the past week.
Three of them are outside backs and one is a flanker, with the WRFU now finalising their status so they will be classed as local players should any prove good enough for selection in the Heartland championship campaign.
Speirs Food Marton will host the hurting Taihape, after they surrendered the shield, down at Marton Park.