ALL the marbles will be on the line at Spriggens Park tomorrow as Waverley Harvesting Border put their undefeated record and the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield on the line against the red hot Integrity Motors Pirates.
The top of the table clash will also decide the Paul Mitchell Cup for the winners of this disjointed first round of the Tasman Tanning Premier grade but, for Border coach Ross Williams, tomorrow is mostly about testing themselves against the form squad with an eye to the finals in July.
“They’re a hell of a team. Power right across the paddock, organisation in the middle.”
Ordinarily, Williams would look back on getting through two byes within the first four weeks to win six straight games, including the very long away trips to Ohakune and Taihape, as an unqualified success.
However, the nature of this first round, with its continuous disruptions – Border never leading the table until last week – has meant every team still has a lot more to give.
Border’s narrow 22-18 win over an injury-hit Utiku Old Boys in Waverley last Saturday was proof as, Williams says, they have yet to put together a full half of dominant rugby.
“It’s fair to say the changing room was pretty flat afterwards.
“The results are pleasing, but we’ve not overly proud of our performances on occasion.
“We seem to be defending pretty well. I guess coming up against the top dogs, it’s their biggest opportunity.”
Stalwart hooker Cole Baldwin is likely to be out for four weeks with a knee injury, while key lock Sam Madams is also doubtful, a big blow with partner Jack Hodges (calf muscle) already on the sideline.
Second five James Forsyth needs a fortnight, while prop Kamipeli Latu is under a cloud.
One player looking forward to the match is flanker/winger Sikeli (Bobo) Ulukuta, as he gets a family reunion against older brothers in Pirates captain Lasa and new winger Pene.
On the first weekend of the season where all eight teams will play, another squad with a little bit of rare optimism as they head to Ohakune will be Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist.
Having picked up consecutive wins over Harvey Round Motors Ratana and Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau, Marist are the latest team to sniff blood in the water from the wounded former champions in McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu.
“It just shows you how important the Pirates [narrow loss] is now – we could have been up in the mix,” said Marist coach Jason Hamlin.
No8 Sam Stewart has collected back-to-back MVP awards, fellow forward Ian Hawkes has been in good nick, and Hamlin is clear that the return of representative prop Viki Tofa has been a very welcome tonic.
However, there are always gaps in quality to fill as winger Simon Dibben has hurt his ribs again, while midfielder Richard Graham is doubtful this week and may also have to leave town soon for work commitments.
“We’re not struggling for numbers, but just as it seems we put everything on track, something rears its head,” Hamlin said.
PGG Wrightson/Ballance Taihape will likely finish just behind either Pirates or Border, to miss the Paul Mitchell Cup, when they travel to the Country Club to play a disappointed Kaierau, who have to be wondering what went wrong after they started so strongly with a win in Ohakune.
Utiku will want as many points as they can muster, given their injury list, when they host winless Ratana at Memorial Park.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle