It has changed hands eight times to reside in five different clubrooms this year, but the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield is now sitting in perhaps the most unlikely location of the lot after Speirs Marton played like there was no tomorrow to shock an understrength Taihape 16-15 at Memorial Park on Saturday.
For the third straight week, the Tasman Tanning Premier fixture spotlighted by the Wanganui Chronicle provided an upset, as eighth-placed Marton showed up determined to have their season-defining moment, whereas Taihape were feeling the grind of staying in the top end of the semifinal race as injury robbed them of several key forwards, including standout flanker Marcus Tottman.
First-five Tom Wells could not recapture the goalkicking form which served him well the week before in the Shield win over Waverley Harvesting Border, and Taihape also rued four key first-half turnovers where they either spilled possession or were trapped in the ruck by desperate Marton defence with the tryline in sight.
Known for being eager but often taking the wrong option, Marton knew they had a sniff when deadlocked 3-3 at halftime, as player/coach Cornel Mason designated himself waterboy and manager Justin Lock stalked the sidelines, screaming out instructions.
Young men Tyler Rogers-Holden and Michael Thomsen had massive games at halfback and No8 respectively, both making probing runs and strong cover tackles, while goalkicking fullback Jake Karaynidis was crucially accurate, landing four key kicks from six attempts.
Taihape showed better control at the set piece, playing 15-man rugby, but more often went sideways instead of penetrating, as the game maintained a frenetic pace.
Ironically, it was a characteristic rush of blood from Marton’s backs that led to the best-worst attacking kick possible to set up their match winning try.
Having just lost flanker Steve Wulf to the sinbin for a high tackle, then conceeding a rolling maul try from Taihape loosie Johnathon Maxwell after a free kick lineout, Marton tried a near fatal quick throw-in at their 22m after Wells’ booming 50m touch finder.
Trapped by Taihape’s chasers, first-five Mundsan Ah Chong’s wild clearance skewed off the side of his boot, bouncing in open pastures near the grandstand touchline.
However, big second-five Lote Tauailoto chased through and freed his arms in two tackles to feed winger Peter Hay-Horton, who in turn set up Ah Chong for a 50m dash to the line with Taihape chasing in vain.
Down 16-8 with 10 minutes left, a desperate Taihape were hamstrung by more dropped ball, which had blighted their first half, but Marton likewise gave it right back to them.
The Taihape backs then worked a clinical move from a 10m scrum with halfback James Barrett linking with Wells and the Whale’s brothers fullback Dane and winger Luke to send the latter over untouched in the corner.
Told to just take the kick quickly, Wells got out of his own way and nailed the sideline conversion with four minutes left.
Taihape got right back down on attack as their pack, who had been led well by captain No8 Tremaine Gilbert and prop Ritchie Iorns, tried to force one last score.
However, Marton’s doggedly held them and then secured the penalty as Taihape got offside trying to steal the scrum ball back from Holden with time up.
Mason was thrilled his side had finally done themselves justice, having treated the game like it was their own Grand Final.
“That was the mentality – it was about coming up here and having a crack at the Shield. We’re taking it home with us.
“Big effort by everyone, especially the forward pack.
“It’s rare you come up here and dominate the ruck.”
Holden, Thomsen, Tauailoto and centre Saul Chase had all been outstanding, Mason said.
A disappointed Gilbert knew the result was costly, as they look ahead to upcoming games with Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist and the local derby with Utiku Old Boys.
“These are no way guaranteed wins, especially if we play like that.
“It just makes it hard for us from here on out. To go from being two points off of second, it pushes us down towards Ratana [fifth].
“I think we just started panicking a bit,” Gilbert said. “Credit to [Marton], they played well.”
Grand Hotel Challenge Shield Speirs Food Marton 16 (Mundsan Ah Chong try, Jake Karaynidis 3 pen,con) bt Taihape 15 (Johnathon Maxwell, Luke Whale tries, Tom Wells pen, con). HT: 3-all.
By Jared Smith – WANGANUI CHRONICLE