IF THE ground can stand up to the pounding, Spriggens Park should host a classic Tasman Tanning Premier clash tomorrow as the points-table bolters Integrity Motors Pirates and PGG Wrightsons/Ballance Taihape clash for ascendancy.
As the main event of a double-header with Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist against Utiku Old Boys, the match should confirm who are the logical favourites for the Premier championship, the prospect of a late-season run by McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu not withstanding.
Of the two teams, Pirates have been the more dominant in the big games with Utiku and Waverley Harvesting Border, but Taihape are the only team to lower their colours in 2015 – 19-18 at Memorial Park on March 21.
“I’ve only seen them for about 20 minutes on Spriggens for the last double-header [May 23],” said Pirates coach Phillip Morris of his familiarity with Kerry Whale’s team.
“They beat us on a hot, dusty day, we were not fit, so we want payback for that.”
Wet conditions could dictate terms, given the sand-based Spriggens’ turf has been bare in patches and the Wanganui District Council closed the field last night, forcing Pirates to train in the gym.
“Tuesday training had a good energy and awareness of the challenge,” Morris said.
His primary concern is the amount of points his side has leaked late, which was exactly when Taihape came back to beat Utiku 26-21 last Saturday.
Both sides have pace in the outside backs, Taihape fullback Glenn Horton and wingers Paora McCarthy and Jaye Flaws getting tries in the Utiku match.
Pirates can match them easily for speed with Clive Stowers, Pena Ulukuta, and Sevanalal Takevesi.
But while Morris wants those men involved, he has other cards which can be played, especially if the wet ground has been torn up.
“Everyone knows we’re a muscled-up side. Don’t like to go round the corner a lot until we set targets.”
First-five Denning Tyrell prefers to keep the ball in front of the forwards until they have field position, then it is up to the brains trust – Tyrell, halfback Ricky Boniface and No8 Lasa Ulukuta – to decide if and when the ball goes wide.
Hosting the other Taihape side, Utiku, Marist coach Jason Hamlin is feeling the thrust of a double-edged sword.
On Wednesday at the Steelform Wanganui wider-squad’s practice, the backs coach Hamlin was delighted to see Samu Kubunavanua “hit the ground running” after injury, while Michael Nabuliwaqa has been in great finishing form.
The bad news is they, alongside Fijian compatriot Malakai Volou, will be looking to run rampant against Hamlin’s depleted club squad tomorrow.
Even the fact Utiku have dropped their last two games to Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau and Taihape does not instil confidence after only 12 trained for Marist at Cullinane College on Tuesday.
“We’re just trying to short ourselves out. It’s a matter of trying to get people on the park and keep them there,” said Hamlin
“If we can get some people … Richard Graham’s still tied up with work commitments.
“[Utiku] towelled us up last time so we’re wanting to put on a better performance.”
Three more players may be out depending on fitness, while the big blow has been the withdrawal of talented prop Viki Tofa from all rugby – leaving the club and province short of a front rower.
“He’s going to do something else – he’s not into it. Personal reasons,” said Hamlin.
In addition, Aiden Fitzgerald has a groin injury, Simon Dibben (ribs) is uncertain and Jake Alabaster’s injury status is “up in the air”.
It will fall to the likes of fullback Grayson Tihema, former winger turned first-five Scott Dowman, No8-lock Sam Stewart and new Wanganui squad member Manu Herring (prop) to turn in a good effort for their club on Old Timers Day.
First game kicks off at 1pm while the second follows at the regular 2.30pm time.
In other matches, Ruapehu will want to keep momentum going at home against Harvey Round Motors Ratana, who picked up their first win last weekend, while Kaierau will host Border at the Country Club.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle