It was guaranteed to be a tense Steelform Wanganui training session last night as for the first time in this Pink Batts Heartland campaign there were several spots in the starting XV up for grabs less than 48 hours before kickoff at Cooks Gardens
Normally Jason Caskey and his coaching staff have settled on their shadow 22 before the start of the second training run, but injuries and unavailability earlier in the week have been coupled with the hunt to find the formula to break the team out of their form slump when they face East Coast.
“No experimenting, really, we’ve got some injuries and some guys deserve an opportunity as well,” Caskey said yesterday afternoon.
“That’s a decision we’ll make tonight [Thursday], when we get there and see how everyone gets through training.”
Pouring concrete at the time, Caskey is looking for a similar strong foundation up-front with youngster Viki Tofa starting at prop.
Taranaki import Bryn Hudson came off the Ashburton Showgrounds with a groin niggle last Saturday, and so was bracketed last night on the bench with Tremaine Gilbert.
It means the ‘Lasa Ulukuta: Front Rower’ experiment is put on hold as he shifts back to cover No8.
“We just sorely need that go forward,” Caskey said.
“He’s done alright at prop but with the scrum rule changes, it’s a longer process – 25 seconds and it’s full on.
“Takes a lot out of them, and cuts down what they can do around the field.”
The other Taranaki import Josh Hamilton could not make Tuesday night due to working late, so Caskey was to decide last night if he or Dane Whale will run the cutter at first-five.
Soon to be joining the new NZ Heartland Under 19 squad, Zyon Hekenui should take over fullback while Samu Kubunavanua starts on the wing.
Halfback William Short also gets his opportunity at the expense of Lindsay Horrocks.
While many players will bring different motivations to Cooks Gardens, Caskey is playing down the prospect that revenge will be one of them.
East Coast and Wanganui both sit at the tail-end of the Heartland table, which is ironic given the last time they met was the 2012 Meads Cup final.
October 27, 2012, was the day East Coast staged the dynamic comeback from 27-3 down after 50 minutes to snatch a 29-27 win in one of that season’s most exciting televised matches.
“Nah, to be honest, not really [revenge].
“That’s been and gone as far as I’m concerned,” said Caskey, who was replaced as Wanganui coach a month later.
“If it was recently, maybe, but it was two years ago.
“It’s a must-win game, that’s all the motivation we need.”
There are only five Wanganui survivors from that memorable day in Ruatoria – captain Peter Rowe, Andrew Evans, Shaun McDonough, Roman Tutauha and returning Auckland import Rhema Sagote.
Ace Malo and Simon Dibben would also have been there if not for recent injury.
Backing up from that era for East Coast are Verdon Bartlett, Pomare Samupo, Charlie Harrison, Tanetoa Parata, Mahue Dewes, and Pakanui Webb.
This season, East Coast had to face teams who have emerged as strong Meads Cup contenders in their opening four games and suffered badly.
Poverty Bay and Horowhenua Kapiti inflicted heavy away defeats, but the most embarrassing was the 67-6 slaughter by front runners Buller in Ruatoria on August 30.
But given Wanganui are now ranked outsiders for the Meads Cup and fighting to even get in Lochore contention, they must throw hesitation aside and play the high-risk style on Saturday to get not only a win, but their first vital four-try bonus.
By Jared Smith