“A wounded animal’s a dangerous beast.” That one statement by Integrity Motors Pirates coach Phillip Morris shows his team has no illusions about the task ahead of them at Ohakune tomorrow when they meet the slowly recovering McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu.
Twelve months ago, this would have been the clash between the two top teams in Tasman Tanning Premier – an obvious grand final preview and likely to decide the holder of the Paul Mitchell Cup for the winner of the first round of games.
However, having lost nine players from their three-year run on top, Ruapehu have been dragged down into dogfights this season against teams eager to peg them back, and only picked up their first victory in their last match before the bye (over winless Harvey Round Motors Ratana).
Yet that all means little to Morris. Wanting a committed 80-minute effort out of his team both in this match and next week against unbeaten Waverley Harvesting Border, he is taking no chances.
“They’ll be disappointed with their start,” said Morris.
“We’ve been preparing for one of the toughest assignments of the round.”
Coming off two byes in three weeks, Morris acknowledges the change to the format for the second round where the WRFU will re-arrange the unpopular two team byes so everyone has the same weekends off instead.
Yet that doesn’t solve the problem of inactivity, he said.
“The biggest challenge with us is keeping players interested. You have to go back over things you saidtwo to three weeks ago because they’ve forgotten.”
Players like maestro first-five Denning Tyrell have not enjoyed it, as game time to establish continuity within a backline with the speed of Savanalal Takavesi, Clive Stowers, Josia Dawai and Denaia Ulukuta is vital.
“The rain coming down probably suits that big [Ruapehu] forward pack more than ours,” said Morris.
“I’m picking that Ruapehu will be there at the end in the top four.”
His opposite Chris Winter has heeded the encouragement.
“We always like to take up the challenge.”
Ruapehu’s new backline, which has looked brittle compared to their strength up front, has been reinforced with the return of utility backs George Williams and Owen King, although the good news has a counter-weight as inspirational Steelform Wanganui captain Peter Rowe has a torn hamstring, while his lock brother Ian is out with an ankle injury.
“It’s no excuses but I think we’ve got a good team,” said Winter.
“It’s unlike us [to lose], but I think our losses … it feels like we’ve won, as to what players and resources we had. If anyone else was to lose nine players …”
Hooker Roman Tutauha had been in “outstanding” form each week, while the likes of veteran loose forward Andrew Evans had kept plugging away.
Utiku Old Boys coach Gavin Thompson does not want to hear any more about injuries.
At the start of their campaign with Fijian imports Samu Kubunavanua, Michael Nabuliwaqa, Semi Rabradra, and Malakai Volou all in great touch, backed by a rugged forward pack, Utiku were the talk of the competition.
After losing Rabradra with a broken arm, Kubunavanua is also out with a torn bicep to add to an injury toll now totalling eight for the little club without the depth of the city teams.
It will make for a long trek up to Waverley this weekend to try to take the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield off Border.
“The squad is 17, not looking too good,” said Thompson.
“We’ve got four backs out and all we had was a backline.
“Intwo or three weeks we should have everyone back on depth, if it’s not too late. We can’t afford to drop too many games.”
The other match of the weekend – the last under the three games with two byes format – sees Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau host Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle