It’s strange to think of a team sitting fourth with no chance to improve that spot on the Tasman Tanning Premier points table, as being in the driver’s seat.
But after a horror start to their campaign with just two victories in the first round, McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu are now riding a four-game winning streak and take the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield into tomorrow, for their last home game of the year against the hurting Utiku Old Boys.
Approaching full strength, Ruapehu’s final three games of the round-robin are against the minnow teams out of semifinal contention, letting them just quietly focus on working on their systems, knowing they will have an away semifinal.
Ruapehu’s veterans are comfortable with going on the road for play-offs – even in the years they finished top of the table, the grand final is always at Spriggens Park.
Meanwhile, separated by two points, PGG Wrightsons-Ballance Taihape, Waverley Harvesting Border and Integrity Motors Pirates are still having to go full bore, being under pressure over this last fortnight of pool games to secure a home semi.
At Memorial Park last Saturday, Border coach Ross Williams and Taihape’s Kerry Whale felt this gave Ruapehu a mental edge – just waiting in the reeds to see who will emerge as their play-off opponent.
“I don’t know if we’ve got them scared yet,” said Ruapehu coach Chris Winter.
“We’re doing alright, still got a little bit of short numbers. I don’t think we’re putting the pressure on yet.”
Midfielder Troy Brown has emerged as the heir apparent to the departed Logan Vaughan, regularly finding his way to the tryline.
“He’s a Raetihi boy a long time and played a lot of [summer] touch with us,” said Winter.
“He’s familiar with everyone, which has helped him fit in.”
Having been overseas for a while, David Gower returns this week although when it comes to the season’s mystery man, Nick Cranston, Winter said the big lock still has a neck injury.
As Ruapehu will finish the round-robin against Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau at the Country Club, tomorrow’s game at Rochfort Park is their last chance to give the locals something to smile about.
“I think we owe them one, our home record hasn’t been that great,” said Winter.
“They’re probably not used to that. We weren’t.
“We just want to give them something.”
Back in Wanganui, it will be the third of the three Spriggens Park double headers as Pirates will face Harvey Round Motors Ratana at 1pm, followed by Border taking on Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist at 2.30pm.
Sitting bottom of the table, it has been a disappointing year for the only Rangitikei team in Premier as after just missing the Top 4 in 2014, Ratana have only two wins while three players spent a fortnight on the sideline for red cards.
But there have been some good signs in the past three games, as they held Ruapehu scoreless until the second half, losing 13-0, then defeated Utiku 24-17 to sink their play-off hopes, and led Taihape at half-time before being beaten 29-10.
“It’s been a bit of fitness, I suppose,” said coach Cornel Mason of his side’s failings.
“We’ve taken a lot of teams to the wire, but [then lost] with the back 20-30 minutes.
“As a club, we worked on our discipline – we had the union come in and have a word with us.”
Mason acknowledged the sheer weight of cards has been a huge concern in Wanganui rugby this year.
Although Premier emerged unscathed last Saturday, there were still two red cards and two yellows in the Senior grade, bringing the WRFU judiciary back to the table last night.
No question in terms of instilling training commitment and cooler heads on the field, Ratana has missed their talisman captain Vaan Rauhina, who is still hobbling along on crutches and now helping out Mason.
The team has also performed better after they turned their experienced loose forwards, Jamie Hughes and Pehira Huwyler, into the midfield backs combination, although Hughes has been busy with flood recovery recently.
Mason has also talked to the senior players about putting in harder effort during preseason, as he does not want to bring young players into a “crap work environment”.
Therefore within two seasons they could be back in championship contention.
“They’re looking at me, and say, ‘we’re there, but we’re not quite there’.”
In the other Premier game of Week 15, table leaders Taihape will host Kaierau at Memorial Park in the last buildup game to their crucial clash with Border next weekend
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle