Ratana and Marist Celtic to settle it all at Cooks Gardens.
By Jared Smith
It will be a long afternoon of celebrations at either Spriggens Park in town or inside the Ratana Pā after Tasman Tanning Senior’s two undisputed best teams battle it out for the title at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.
With the country remaining at Level 2 of Covid-19 restrictions until at least Monday, WRFU Finals day will see an extended gap between the Senior and Premier playoffs, starting with an 11.30am kickoff for Harvey Round Motors Ratana vs Ali Arc Logistics-DNA Kennels Marist Celtic.
“Bit earlier than usual, I was quite surprised with that, but because of Covid they have to sanitise the grandstand after we leave,” said Ratana manager Johnathon Kaa.
“We’ll be asleep by 6pm [if we win].”
Coming down from Premier and rebuilding their squad under new coach Leon Mason, the Covid restrictions did mean several past stars and young players committed to Ratana for 2020, with the team dominating the truncated 10-game regular season to finish undefeated.
Dominating everyone that is, except Celtic; for so long the barometers for competitiveness in Senior while the championship form of other sides came and went – being adaptable under all competition formats whether Top 6 Championship, quarterfinals, or last year’s Division 2.
On August 22, Celtic were leading 10-7 at halftime in the Pā, before the home side ground out a 21-16 victory, their only win which was remotely close.
With a Spriggens Park double header last weekend, Celtic coach Duane Brown was able to watch Ratana’s 48-8 win over his Buffalos club-mates to see if there were any changes to when Celtic played them.
“It was a wee bit different – the conditions were a lot dryer, it was muddy at the Pa,” he said.
“That last 15 minutes [against us], they pretty much had a lot of possession and kept it tight.
“Around the fringes we were found out a bit. Definitely worked on that – all aspects of the game we continue to work on.”
Kaa agreed the conditions had come towards his forward-orientated side in their previous meeting.
“Our field can get quite heavy and when it does it stays heavy for a while.
“Cooks Gardens is going to be a point of difference.
“We’ve got no preconceptions, it is what it is on the day.
“Marist are going to bring everything they’ve got, and we know that. They’ll throw the kitchen sink at us.”
While they were supposed to be busy with their pre-match warm-ups, Ratana likewise kept watching over their shoulders at Spriggens Park as Celtic dismissed last year’s Senior champions Bennett’s Taihape 50-12 last Saturday.
“The boys couldn’t help themselves, they had a little preview of what could be the go,” said Kaa.
With a better season defensive record than Ratana, although second-best on offence, Celtic will look to their experienced men to stifle the favourite’s momentum, with grand finals inherently having fewer opportunities to capitalise on.
“We’ll continue on what we’ve been doing, it’s been working well,” said Brown.
“For us, it’s just about being in the mindset for finals rugby.
“We’ve got some experience in our team that have been all the way before.
“It can be done, it’s just one more hurdle.”
An interesting matchup could be Ratana’s former coach and 51-game Steelform Wanganui representative Steelie Koro running Celtic’s plays against Ratana’s former Wanganui Heartland players in halfback Kane Tamou and utility Cody Hemi – the latter the only player from Senior rugby invited into 2020’s representative training squad.
Hemi was at first-five – Koro’s position – against the Buffalos, but Kaa said he usually runs at centre.
“Steelie is one of those players – you’ve got to watch him.”
Almost a club within the Wanganui Marist club, there is no degree of separation amongst the close-knit Celtic squad, as teenaged sons have joined their veteran fathers, nephews play alongside uncles, and even teachers are team-mates with their former pupils from the Cullinane and City colleges.
“We’re traditional – it’s not just us we’re playing for, it’s for the older guys that developed Celtic back in the day,” said Brown.
“It’s always Whanau first.”
Able to use an occasional rotation policy, the squad is good shape with no major injury concerns.
Meanwhile, trying to win the Senior title for the first time in their club’s history, having previously got close in 2000, Ratana have had only one major injury with a broken thumb, and that player may still be available on Saturday as the cast comes off this week.
Road to the Final
- July 4: Ratana bt Marton 20-7; Celtic bt Counties 43-0.
- July 11: Ratana bt Utiku OB 48-17; Celtic bt Pirates 51-0.
- July 18: Celtic bt Buffalos 43-3; Ratana bye.
- July 25: Ratana bt Taihape 39-15; Celtic bt Border 59-0.
- August 1: Ratana bt Hunterville 38-15; Celtic bt Kaierau 24-21.
- August 8: Ratana bt Counties 31-10; Celtic bt Marton 45-5.
- August 15: Ratana bt Pirates 57-20; Celtic bt Utiku OB 22-10.
- August 22: Ratana bt Celtic 21-16.
- August 29: Ratana bt Border 67-9; Celtic bye.
- September 5: Ratana bt Kaierau 30-10; Celtic bt Hunterville 30-20.
- September 12: Ratana bt Buffalos 48-8; Celtic bt Taihape 50-12.
Ratana – Played: 10; Won: 10; Lost: 0; Points For: 400; Points Against: 127.
Celtic – Played: 10; Won: 9; Lost: 1; Points For: 373; Points Against: 92.