They breed them tough over in Taihape.
PGG Wrightson/Balance Taihape’s Memorial Park battle with Utiku Old Boys is one of two derby games which highlight the return of Tasman Tanning Premier rugby after the Queen’s Birthday Weekend break.
In the past two seasons, the sides have usually been at opposite ends of the points table by the second round of games, although Taihape have never taken the underdog Utiku team at all lightly.
There is an added spark in 2015 as Utiku are also in the top 4 in this clash of 2nd v 4th – treating the match as a must-win – as both teams become wary of their fellow Northern sub union bogey team McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu possibly making a late run.
“It’s basically mental with our boys at the moment – we’re good enough,” said Taihape manager Anthony Martin.
“I wouldn’t say we’re 100 per cent [healthy].”
To show how serious they are, lock Johnson Hiriroa missed Tuesday training, concerned about his sore ribs, but has not headed to the doctor as asked.
Outside back Cyrus Paringatai is just grinning and bearing his dislocated finger, which he reset himself rather than come to the sideline in Taihape’s big win over Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist two weeks ago.
There are a couple of key matchups out wide from both teams, as Taihape’s Jaye Flaws will look to test himself against Samu Kubunavanua and Michael Nabuliwaqa.
All three have been selected for Jason Caskey’s young Steelform Wanganui team to play in Palmerston North later this month.
“You just need to tackle them, that’s all,” said Martin of Utiku’s Fijian contingent.
Young halfback Brett Nicholls, who Taihape coach Kerry Whale really rates, is also in the Wanganui team with a chance to press his claims.
“He’s pretty good, old Brett, tough little player,” said Martin.
Like the speedsters out wide, there are players in the engine room who will match up well, having previously been teammates in Monday’s Town versus Country trial at Hunterville.
Tremaine Gilbert will go head-to-head in the loose forwards with Utiku’s other Fijian star, No8 Malakai Volou, who has had an outstanding club season.
“He’s probably the best forward in Wanganui – he’s pretty good,” said Utiku coach Gavin Thompson a fortnight ago.
“The whole team’s stepped up this year.”
The second round’s removal of the double bye weeks has closed everything right back up, as well as changing the order of matches.
That could have a big bearing on the top 4, given after this key derby clash, Taihape will meet table-topping Integrity Motors Pirates next weekend.
Utiku have a tough finish with Waverley Harvesting Border, Ruapehu and Pirates in the final weeks, but Thompson had no problem with the rearrangement.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to play them eventually anyway.
“It’s all in our hands now, we’re in the top four.
“[Ruapehu] will come right, I reckon, but we’ve got to keep on winning and it won’t be a problem.”
Ruapehu showed remarkable improvement last time out with just a missed conversion denying them a Spriggens Park win over Pirates – the same team which hammered them on May 9.
Seven members of the club are in the Wanganui team for Palmerston North, which does not include all of their veteran representative players.
If they are to come right after a 2-6 record so far, then this away game with Border in Waverley has to be the day.
The other local derby will be at Spriggens as Pirates will look to stay on top of the table when they take on Marist in another matchup known for bringing the fireworks.
Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau will head down to the Pa to meet Harvey Round Motors Ratana.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle