ECCENTRIC Hollywood actor Christopher Walken once said that “At its best, life is completely unpredictable”.
A baseball fan, Walken would probably appreciate how his credo translates into the 2015 edition of the Tasman Tanning premier competition, where the disruption of the forced double bye and the uneven allocation of quality outside backs across the region has led to a somewhat inverted table.
Leading the charge, defending champions Integrity Motors Pirates and the surprisingly undefeated Utiku Old Boys – former wooden-spooners and the only premier side without a naming sponsor – take the week off at the top of the table, which opens the door for PGG Wrightson/Ballance Taihape to supplant them in a key match at Rochfort Park.
After 23 straight defeats, Taihape will eye up the winless McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu like the young lion sizes up the ageing lion for pride supremacy.
Handed some big hidings during Ruapehu’s glory run in the 2012-13 championship seasons, Taihape closed the gap dramatically on their northern sub-union rivals at the end of the last year, Ruapehu winning 16-14 and 23-20 in the final round and semifinal.
But having lost several of their championship calibre players, and ushering in an untried backline, Ruapehu have struggled out of the gate and it no doubt burns the ambitious Taihape that their Memorial Park neighbours Utiku upset the mountain men before they did.
It was the cool head of midfielder Logan Vaughan who led Ruapehu to victory the last time these teams met, but he has moved on and the likes of centre Tautahi Rawiri will have to step up against Taihape’s big ball runners in Cyrus Paringatai and league import Cyrus Tasi.
Utiku and Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau had enough talent in their backlines to exploit Ruapehu’s Achilles heel.
After attending a wedding last weekend, Ruapehu’s captain, Peter Rowe, is back. They also have the steady hand of first five Zyon Hekenui, while their rep hooker Roman Tutauha is in sublime form.
Despite having one win from three games, Kaierau will be in a good spot if they can secure a win at the Country Club tomorrow afternoon against Harvey Round Motors Ratana.
Coach Keith Savell has had a disrupted preparation, with the team not having any intensity over their bye week, and standout representative playmaker Areta Lama with a split focus, as he is preparing for his boxing match at the Rise of the Fallen show on April 25.
“It’s quite tough, you get guys not turning up [to training], losing interest. But it was back on this week,” said Savell.
“It’s fairly close in the middle of the table. Every game’s important.
“With these byes, it’s hard to work out [teams in form]. Gives a false reading.”
Savell is still moving players around in the backline, especially at fullback, given that Lama, Ace Malo, Taylor Kirkwood, Kameli Kuruyabaki and Karl Pascoe all have to fit somewhere into the equation.
While Ratana have done it tough after two heavy defeats, returning coach Cornel Mason is hopeful of making Kaierau’s break work for his team.
“The clubs like us, trying to create momentum, there’s a chance to catch up.
“We’re slowly improving – getting more numbers to training has been the big plus.”
The big loss is talisman captain Vaan Rauhina, who went in for another leg operation this week.
Mason has looked to loose forwards like Jamie Hughes and Scott Komene to lead from the front, but it’s going to take more than them to turn 2015 around.
Border have finally put their byes behind them to play just their third game when they defend the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield at home against Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle