Lights, camera, action for Steelform Wanganui vs Poverty Bay on Saturday.

Wanganui is our name, and rugby is our game
We are the Wanganui rugby team
(Don’t cha know? Don’t cha know? Hee-ha!)
Don’t hold that ball too long, just pass it right along
Play the game, Wanganui, play the game
What a feeling, what a buzz
For playing with your Cuz
We are the Wanganui rugby team
(Don’t cha know? Don’t cha know? Hee-ha!)
Don’t hold that ball too long, just pass it right along
Play the game, Wanganui, play the game
(Tahi, Rua , Toru, Whā, Kisi, Aur, Hai!) 
Team song

By Jared Smith

It’s the bright lights in the big city for Steelform Wanganui as their final representative game of a shortened season against Poverty Bay will be televised to a national audience on Saturday.

With their enviable record of making Meads Cup finals and receiving mandatory Ranfurly Shield challenges, Wanganui usually gets at least one game per season live on Sky TV – in fact, over the previous decade-and-a-half, it was only 2013 when this was not the case.

But with no Heartland Championship this year due to Covid-19, the prospect of continuing that televised streak was looking unlikely, until WRFU chief executive Bridget Belsham was able to do a little wheeling and dealing, aided by the fact the Napier-based Hawke’s Bay Magpies have been having a banner year in the delayed Mitre 10 Cup.

And so, with the McLean Park derby of Hawke’s Bay vs Manawatu being a Ranfurly Shield match, the Sky TV cameras will go live a little earlier for the previously arranged curtain-raiser between Wanganui and Poverty Bay.

Assistant coach Jason Hamlin would love for their game to be a true showcase of what the Heartland Championship means.

“When we get our game right, I know we can play some attractive rugby.

“It’s a good opportunity for a few players – they’ll be seen by a wider audience.

“Some can put their names in lights.”

And Wanganui have the right dance partner – if any three words sum up Poverty Bay rugby it’s attack, attack, attack.

Beaten Lochore Cup semifinalists in last year’s Heartland Championship, Poverty Bay managed to score four or more tries in seven of their nine games, and yet only picked up three wins.

This shortened season, despite playing three games to Wanganui’s four, they have raised 14 more points with 102 in total, but have also conceded 93.

Andrew Tauatevalu of Poverty Bay in action 2018 (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

“They’re playing to their record books, if you look at the last five years,” said Hamlin.

“I think we were discussing the other night with the team – Poverty Bay are the team you get 40 points on, but they put 30 on you as well.

“You think you’re going gangbusters, and then they put on 20 points by halftime.”

Opportunity will knock for two debutants at different stages of their careers, as Wanganui paid the price for their physical Bruce Steel Memorial Cup win over Wairarapa Bush.

Try-scoring lock Cade Robinson came off with a head knock and medical advice has seen him withdraw, while prop Wiremu Cottrell has had a series of leg injuries, and is also starting a new job outside of the district.

Attending the wedding of his Waverley Harvesting Border co-captain Angus Middleton, top points scorer Craig Clare is likewise unavailable, in what is quite possibly the end of a magnificent first-class career with over 100 games in Super Rugby, Mitre 10 Cup and the Heartland Championship.

The current backline can cover his absence with Tyler Rodgers-Holden returning to fullback, talented teenager Dillon Adrole rejoining the bench, and winger Alekesio Vakarorogo back in the starting XV after both he and cousin Vereniki Tikoisolomone scored great tries last weekend, with this style of match perfect for their skill-sets.

“Vereniki showed what we missed in the game with King Country – that finishing quality,” said Hamlin.

But it is in the pack where outside help was needed, as young Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist lock Bradley O’Leary (below middle) is set to make his debut following an apprenticeship in the Wanganui Under 20, Gain Line, and Development XV’s.

“He was in the mix a bit earlier – probably a toss-up between him and Matt Ashworth, and Matt has taken his chance,” said Hamlin.

“[O’Leary] turned up on Tuesday, all full of beans.”

And the champagne corks would have been popping in gumboot country as Byfords Readimix Taihape’s erstwhile captain Matt Brown receives what the locals will tell you is a long-overdue call up.

Having guided his club team to consecutive WRFU Premier finals and one championship, the lock/flanker has been somewhat the forgotten man come representative seasons.

“[Jason] Caskey gave him a ring the other night, he’s pretty keen to get stuck in, boots and all,” said Hamlin.

“He’s just one of those guys that’s there or thereabouts. It’s hard when you’ve got a Campbell Hart and a Semi Vodosese.

“[Brown’s] a great club footballer, and he’s got his chance. Maybe he can say, ‘I should have been here all along’.

“This Covid season, the theme of trying to provide an opportunity for players that might not have had it otherwise is coming through.”

Kickoff will be 2.05pm at Napier’s McLean Park, live on Sky Sport channel 53.

Poverty Bay 2020 games
First Class:
bt East Coast 34-31
bt East Coast 42-16
lost to Wairarapa Bush 46-26.

Steelform Wanganui 2020 games
lost to Hawke’s Bay Saracens 36-12.

First Class:
bt Horowhenua-Kapiti 36-7
lost to King Country 16-11
bt Wairarapa Bush 29-8.

The Wanganui team is:

  1. Gabriel Hakaraia;
  2. Joe Edwards
  3. Kamipeli Latu
  4. Josh Lane
  5. Matt Ashworth
  6. Campbell Hart
  7. Jamie Hughes
  8. Semi Vodosese
  9. Cameron Davies
  10. Dane Whale
  11. Alekesio Vakarorogo
  12. Timoci Seruwalu
  13. Josaia Bogileka
  14. Vereniki Tikoisolomone
  15. Tyler Rodgers-Holden.

16. Dylan Gallien
17. Hadlee Hay-Horton
18. Matthew Brown
19. Bradley O’Leary
20. Ethan Robinson
21. Logan Henry
22. Dillon Adrole.