Wanganui’s trip into the unknown to face West Coast

Viki Tofa, centre, returns to the Wanganui front row for the trip down to Greymouth to play West Coast. Viki Tofa, centre, returns to the Wanganui front row for the trip down to Greymouth to play West Coast.

Steelform Wanganui coach Jason Caskey has not had a lot of time to formulate a specific battle plan for West Coast before his squad boards their Air Chathams flight today.

Final results collated from last Saturday’s opening Mitre 10 Heartland Championship round confirmed the Coasters had scored four tries in their 27-25 comeback win over Thames Valley in Te Aroha, with the added bonus point officially moving them up to fourth spot ahead of Wanganui.

Looking to make adjustments to the squad which held back South Canterbury 21-10, some changes necessary and others early season rotation, Caskey did not receive any footage of this weekend’s opponent until Thursday – missing the chance to have a good study before the evening training session due to his day job.

As the Heartland unions record their matches, it is an informal custom to share those files around to scout upcoming opponents.

“For some unknown reason, Thames Valley decided they didn’t need to film it because Heartland TV was there,” said Caskey.

“Not the best when you get [the footage] at 2pm in the afternoon, when it’s supposed to be available on Monday.”

Located on opposite islands while playing in a 12-team competition with an eight-game round robin which regularly pits unions against their neighbours, Wanganui does not face West Coast that often, with their last trip to Rugby Park being in 2014.

Wanganui’s undefeated 2016 campaign saw them thrash West Coast 74-6 at Cooks Gardens, but Caskey also remembers his team had back-to-back losses in 2013-14.
“We have [been ambushed before], and don’t know too much about them.”

The 23-17 defeat in 2014 was played in torrential pouring rain in Greymouth, but given they live with that weather all year round, the Coasters know how to prepare a sturdy footy field.

Caskey said so long as a storm isn’t happening during the match, Rugby Park has such lush grass cover you can always play your style of match.

“It’s always a pretty good field down there, that’s the main thing. No complaints.”

Last Saturday’s West Coast team was captained by their experienced hooker Troy Tauwhare, and contained four imports including lock Tumma Tu’ulua of Auckland’s University club and No 8 Amenatave Tukana, from Christchurch’s Belfast club and a previous loan player.

West Coast had to overcome a lot of drama in Te Aroha when their 65-game veteran lock Brad Houston collapsed and had a cardiac arrest in the second half, with the 33-year-old father of two requiring a defibrillator on the field before he was rushed to hospital.

After the delay, the Coasters came back to score two more tries inside the last 15 minutes to win the match, and are likely to be further inspired to dedicate Saturday’s game to their mate while he recovers.

In the Wanganui squad, No 8 Tremaine Gilbert was unable to run at Tuesday training, following a lower grade ankle injury right before halftime against South Canterbury.

Gilbert had to pass muster at Thursday training or else Angus Middleton, who had a very strong second half off the bench, will get the starting berth with Jackson Campbell on standby to join the bench.

Another to impress at Cooks Gardens was prop Gabriel Hakaraia, however Viki Tofa was able to clear his work schedule to make both training sessions this week, so Caskey will use him and get Hakaraia to be an impact player, able to cover loosehead or tighthead.
“It gives us an opportunity to have him move around a bit and try some things.”

In addition, lock Peter-Travis Hay-Horton will make his first Heartland starting lineup appearance, with the chip kicker himself Sam Madams being rotated to the bench.

Having been on standby last weekend, both Ethan Robinson and Tyler Rogers-Holden replace Kameli Kuruyabaki and Shandon Scott as the back reserves, with Rogers-Holden especially having a strong game for the Wanganui Toyota Development XV in their win over Wellington Maori Development XV.

“We’ve got to make sure everybody gets some game time,” said Caskey.

“They all got a bit of confidence, especially the young guys, to learn where they’re at [after South Canterbury], and where they need to be.

“It’s all about being consistent, you’ve got to back it up.”

Beating their fellow Meads Cup contender in the opening weekend raises the prospect South Canterbury could now become unwilling bodyguards for Wanganui by beating other top teams like Mid Canterbury and Horowhenua-Kapiti before Caskey’s team plays them.

However, that buffer would become null and void if Wanganui drop a game such as this Greymouth match.

“You’ve got to keep winning,” said Caskey.

“At this time of year, all you can do is worry about you and what you can control.”

The team is looking forward to Air Chathams delivering them straight to Hokitika, which then just requires a short bus ride back up to Greymouth.

In an agreement with NZR, who use Air New Zealand as their official carrier, Wanganui will have the services of their own town airline for away matches – eliminating much of the weary travelling where they have to bus to Palmerston North and then fly to major centres on the main trunk before driving off into the provinces.

Leaving Wanganui Airport at 1pm today, the team will have time for a captain’s run through at the ground that afternoon, while the match has an earlier 2pm kickoff time so they can travel home that very evening to spend Sunday with family and friends.

“It’s good not to be away two nights every time,” said Caskey.

“I’m hoping it’s not as bumpy as that flight last year.”

Air Chathams gave Wanganui a lift to their Timaru pool game with South Canterbury last season, but unfortunately ran into some heavy turbulence that had even the best flyers felling green around the gills.

The Steelform Wanganui team is
1. Kamipeli Latu; 2. Dylan Gallien; 3, Viki Tofa; 4. Peter-Travis Hay-Horton; 5. Henri Williams; 6. Campbell Hart (c); 7. Jamie Hughes; 8. Tremaine Gilbert/Angus Middleton; 9. Lindsay Horrocks; 10. Dane Whale; 11. Simon Dibben; 12. Penijamini Nabainivalu; 13. Kaveni Dabenaise; 14. Harry Symes; 15. Craig Clare.
Reserves – Forwards: 16. Jack Yarrall; 17. Gabriel Hakaraia; 18. Sam Madams; 19. Angus Middleton/Jackson Campbell. Backs: 20. Josh Fifita; 21. Ethan Robinson; 22. Tyler Rogers-Holden.

Wanganui Chronicle
By: Jared Smith