Two weeks ago, Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist coach Jason Hamlin’s hope was his team could scramble at least one win with some bonus points out of their next three Tasman Tanning Premier games to cling on to their Top 4 spot of the competition.
Instead, at the three-quarter juncture of the competition, Marist are now firing on all cylinders as Premier’s form team after topping their previous weekend’s effort of out-playing Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau to end the unbeaten streak of PGG Wrightson/Balance Taihape.
Marist lifted the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield 20-17 at Spriggens Park, the first time they have held it in several years, with the penalty by first-five Sam Monaghan which separated the teams at halftime still being the difference at fulltime as each scored one converted try in the second stanza.
Taihape would have been feeling the grind of their unbeaten run while the majority of their starting lineup played in last Monday’s Town vs Country trial; however Marist likewise had plenty of their own talent involved in that game.
Try-scoring lock Lake Ah Chong had a great match, as did playmaker Steelie Koro, while Taihape’s standouts were lock Johnson Hiroa, prop Hadlee Hay-Horton and fullback Dane Whale.
Marist’s upset meant Kaierau did not lift back up into third place as they likely expected after their first victory in four games – beating Harvey Round Motors Ratana 43-22 in a try-scoring shootout at the Country Club.
Utility back Anaru Saurara scored two tries slotting in at centre for a Kaierau backline that looks very different without the injured Ace Malo or Areta Lama.
The outside backs scored the other tries aside from speedy prop Jack Yarrall once again finding his way to the chalk, while first-five Dion Hyland was cleared to return despite being helped off following last weekend’s high tackle and added four conversions.
Ratana brought some respectability back to the scoreboard with three second half tries, with their best being flanker Marius Joseph and centre Western Hemi.
The results mean Kaierau is still the closest target for McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu, who will need to be virtually flawless in their remaining four games, and picked up some momentum in their 55-7 hammering of Utiku Old Boys at Memorial Park.
Not often the recipient of praise this season, veteran George Williams moved back to fullback from first-five and the switch worked for him with three tries in an MVP performance.
Try-scorer Troy Brown was back at centre and another standout, while hooker Roman Tutauha continues to do his part.
With three rounds to go until the Senior competition quarter-finals, Counties scored a vital 23-5 win over their neighbours on the table Ruapehu at McNab Domain – Counties locking themselves into the Top 8, whereas the 2015 champions Ruapehu now need other results to go their way if they are to make the championship playoffs.
Border likewise entrenched themselves with an impressive 39-5 win over Kaierau in Waverley, as the former competition leaders have now slipped right back to fifth with the prospect of losing more ground with a bye and two tough games to come.
Speirs Food Marton, as expected, lifted up to second as a result of their default points from Ratana, while Kelso Hunterville continued their climb into the Top 4 with their 49-3 away win against Utiku Old Boys.
But, really, the other results continue to be window dressing to the unbeaten procession which is Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri, who crushed then-second placed Marist Celtic 64-10 at Spriggens Park in their latest Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield defence.
Having four players involved in the Monday representative trial was no detriment to Ngamatapouri, who have now racked up nearly 500 points in eight-played games, 197 more than the next highest scorers in the grade, ironically, Celtic.
Taihape also have a tough run to the quarterfinals and would have wanted maximum points from their game with winless Marist Buffalos, but instead only just got home 10-5.