THE strength of Steelform Wanganui in 2015 is something that can’t be taught – electrifying pace and freaky athleticism.
What head coach Jason Caskey and his backs coach Jason Hamlin are now drilling into the skulls of their bolters is to try to think as quickly as they can run – especially given their berth in the Meads Cup playoffs is safe after a 55-23 blowout against a dangerous Poverty Bay outfit at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.
In a virtual repeat of last weekend, except this time on nitrous rocket fuel, Wanganui had the bonus point all sewn up right after halftime, to lead 31-13, despite play from both teams being fairly scrappy.
While Poverty Bay pushed the offside line and had deficiencies in their clearances and handling, Wanganui would have been in a similar predicament if they hadn’t been able to call on individual moments of pure class.
If this is the last game in Wanganui colours on home soil for gifted teenaged first-five Stephen Perofeta, then he alone gave supporters their money’s worth with three scintillating tries, all of them solo efforts.
Winger Samu Kubunavanua could play AFL after exploiting Poverty Bay’s weakness on kickoff retentions to leap high and take the ball above his head, along with making a crucial trysaving tackle and scorching over for a pair of five-pointers.
Dangerous second-five Poasa Waqanibau constantly smashed through the line with ball in one hand, dragging defenders with him.
But virtually as many times as they were dynamic, Wanganui turned the pill over. The final pass on the half-break should either not have been thrown, could not be gathered, or was lost for holding on at the breakdown.
It is that tortured genius quality – heart-in-mouth stuff where you praise them one minute and curse the next.
Wanganui once again went to sleep around the hour mark with sloppy handling and pushed passes, with Poverty Bay, who were physical throughout, able to work through some gaping holes and close the margin to 34-23 with plenty of time left.
However, they would rue bombing two penalty lineouts right on Wanganui’s line where hooker Geoff Pari could not telegraph with his jumpers.
On the flip side, through both Cole Baldwin and Roman Tutauha, Wanganui’s lineout plays were quite secure – the jumper batting the ball back down to the hooker – and this proved crucial given Wanganui’s halfbacks found themselves under a lot of pressure.
Out of the frying pan, Wanganui turned up the heat as Perofeta, Waqanibau and Kubunavanua cut loose to lay on three more tries with great runs.
Wanganui props Kamipeli Latu and tryscorer Viki Tofa got through a solid day’s work, while it goes without saying that captain Peter Rowe was always ready for cleanup duty.
“If you’re loose, they can make you pay. With both teams I think it was just a little bit of patience,” Rowe said.
“The 50-50 passes that make the game. It’s just that mental switch, especially after scoring points.”
Again, Perofeta deserved singling out. “That’s a good performance, he’s obviously going places. We saw one ex-Wanganui boy this morning [All Black Waisake Naholo]. If it’s the last time he plays here, it’s a great way to go out.”
Caskey knows these players are just naturals.
“You don’t want to squash that out of them, otherwise why would you have them there?
“It’s just purely the last passes. We’ve got to learn to back ourselves more to take it to ground and recycle. If you make in-roads like that, you should get the tries.”
After a nervous start where Wanganui defended their line, on the first real attacking chance Perofeta split the half gap and stepped off his left to dash under the posts.
Poverty Bay fullback Ethine Reeves replied with a penalty and then big centre Leigh Bristowe latched onto a risky Ace Malo pass and sprinted 70m under the posts for 10-7.
Kubunavanua securing the kickoff led to Wanganui getting the penalty in front for Trinity Spooner-Neera, and after Poverty Bay made a series of costly spills, halfback Lindsay Horrocks went blindside from the scrum and the ball was spread for winger Michael Nabuliwaqa to dive over, with Spooner-Neera making a good sideline conversion.
Reeves replied with a penalty, then Kubunavanua soared for another kickoff steal and dashed into the 22m, with Tofa scoring from short range a few phases later.
Poverty Bay promptly dropped the second-half kickoff and following sustained buildup in the face of some fierce tackling Horrocks made a lovely delayed inside pass and Kubunavanua swept through untouched.
The visitors seemed all at sea as they lost No8 Tamanui Hill to the sinbin after he had three goes at starting a punchup with Wanganui lock Jon Smyth.
But Wanganui suddenly tried to do too much from their own end, Horrocks getting trapped behind the scrum, and Poverty Bay spread for winger Carl Riini to crash over at the far corner flag.
Spooner-Neera tried a behind-the-back pass that was ruled forward as Nabuliwaqa dived over, and then the winger was too casual on missing a 22m dropout.
Then, when back under the pump, Wanganui allowed second-five Kerehama Barrett to slip through for 34-23 with 18 minutes left.
Rowe laid down the law in-goal but the pressure still mounted in their half, until Tutauha made a league-style offload to Waqanibau, who dashed right to the other end.
Four phases later Perofeta backed himself to drag his tackler over the line with five minutes remaining.
Poverty Bay finally broke, as Waqanibau made a huge hit and Kubunavanua was the willing recipient as the ball was spread to him.
In the final minute, Perofeta spied another gap behind the line and made a perfectly weighted grubber, regathering himself and stepping past his man to wrap up proceedings in style.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle