FORGET playing on an unfamiliar 100m field, it is the 22 men who win the battle in their own top two inches who will claim the Tasman Tanning Premiership title tomorrow at Cooks Gardens.
The stage is set where the two most consistent teams for the entire 2015 season will face each other – Integrity Motors Pirates calling on all their big match experience in the defence of their crown, while Waverley Harvesting Border will want to make sure their excellent form of the past few weeks does not desert them on the big stage.
Neither Pirates coach Phillip Morris nor his Border opposite Ross Williams have any qualms about playing the match at Cooks Gardens, as the vast majority of their squads have been there before in either representative matches or other games.
“There’s no bones about that, it’s just about the occasion,” said Williams, who has had the team on light training this week after the raw emotion on display in their impressive semifinal win at home over McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu.
“It’s embracing [the atmosphere] and not letting it consume us.
“We’re here to play our brand of rugby, [because] their brand is fairly damaging.”
Morris understands handling pressure and maintaining adrenaline better than any Wanganui club coach, having previously guided Kaierau to back-to-back Premiership titles and now trying the same with Pirates, even with the match moved away from home turf at Spriggens Park.
“We would have played them in Waitotara Domain if we had to,” he said.
“As a coach, it’s getting the desire to win a second championship, getting their heads right.
“All about preparation, controlling the emotions, and enjoying the occasion.”
The coaches have also pointed to the towelling their teams each gave the other – a 26-5 Pirates win in Round 1 followed by 41-7 payback for Border two months later – as being key moments for getting their own heads straight.
To further emphasise the equality, the season’s Most Valuable Player award was shared between the clubs through Pirates’ maestro Denning Tyrell and Border’s workhorse flanker Kieran Hussey.
“I just find it amazing, been here since 1997, he’s still named as [joint] MVP,” said Morris of the evergreen Tyrell.
“Amazing the way he presents himself, challenges himself.”
Williams feels the same way.
“Lasa [Ulukuta] and Denning – they’re a tough proposition. They gave us a reminder of that in the first round.”
Only one significant change has been made from the Pirates side who got home in a one-point semifinal thriller with PGG Wrightsons/Ballance Taihape, with Samu Etuati coming back in the fullback role.
Before anything, Pirates need to win the battle which is fought “in the dark”, as their front row of Willie Kabakaba and Brett Turner were brilliant in last year’s grand final win over Ruapehu, while the young Samoan, Tololi Moala, has this chance to push for Heartland Championship honours.
“I told them, I don’t want to see their heads all day,” Morris said.
This is crucial because Morris also shows respect for Border prop Lance Devane’s efforts to anchor their front row, alongside the Wanganui incumbents Kamipeli Latu and Cole Baldwin.
“It starts up front, we’ve got to get parity in the set piece. [Pirates] got a very big forward pack,” said Williams.
From that platform, Border can turn loose their midfield assets – Poasa Waqanibau and Renato Tikoilosomone ” who don’t need Cooks Gardens experience with the way they can break lines.
Waqanibau has an incredible 18 tries for a season he did not join until after the early games, with the only Pirate near his tally being their top finisher Clive Stowers on 11.
For Border’s line-up, the only question mark remains whether first-five Jack Lupton will be cleared, although James Forsythe was calm in the role last Saturday.
Williams said everyone else is up for it.
“Finals are finals – sore bodies instantly come right.
“We’re excited for the opportunity, you don’t get a lot of these.”
One thing that can be guaranteed tomorrow is a member of the Ulukuta family will lift the Premiership, as Border’s Sikeli (Bobo) Ulukuta meets his older Pirates brothers Lasa and Pene.
“There’s a bit of banter going around,” said Morris.
“We’ve got a cunning plan – Lasa’s going to push Bobo across field into Pene’s trap.”
Kickoff is 2.30pm, following on from the 1pm Senior championship final with the undefeated Kelso Hunterville meeting Ruapehu for the third straight year, and the 11am Premier consolation final between Utiku Old Boys and Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle