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Championship pedigree vs a generational journey: Border vs Kaierau

I will fight, ’til there’s nothing left

‘Til my legs are gone

You won’t forget me

  • Jim Johnston, Fight, 2002

By Jared Smith

It doesn’t matter if it’s your sixth appearance in seven seasons or your first time in a decade – the Tasman Tanning Premier final at Cooks Gardens is the pinnacle moment for any WRFU club player.

Saturday promises to be a special occasion for either Waverley Harvesting Border, looking for a rare back-to-back Rosebowl Trophy victory, or Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau, appearing in their first final since 2011 and trying to win it for the first time since 2005.

The grand final had seemed destined for another super-club showdown between rivals Border and Byford’s Readimix Taihape – having fought out three previous epics in 2016 and 2019-20, while each took one win off the other this 2021 season.

Kaierau, meanwhile, had limped into third spot and seemed a shell of the young team which made the previous two seasons’ semifinals, thanks to losing a full XV of players to injury at various stages this campaign.

But all scripts had to be rewritten last weekend as Kaierau shocked Taihape 16-5 at Memorial Park, with Border very interested viewers of the live-stream after their 39-11 victory over Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist was already complete.

So interested, in fact, this week Border coach Cole Baldwin changed his Waverley club’s preparations from extended Wednesday night trainings back to the traditional Tuesday-Thursday night sessions.

“It was more of a case of a few things we can get a lot better with – making sure we leave no stone unturned for this week,” Baldwin said.

Border have two comfortable wins over Kaierau this year – 37-10 and 44-7 – but if it appears the town club with the most Steelform Whanganui incumbents in their early 20’s has more players coming back through the door than going out, then Baldwin is astute enough to have contingencies for the unexpected.

“Everyone’s got a starters chance, it’s who can handle the pressure the best and what they want to do right.

“Nothing wrong with a few nerves – it’s healthy. We’re looking pretty good.

“It would be quite special [to repeat].  It’s hard enough to win one, let alone two, and they were made well aware of that yesterday.

“We would have to work hard to do it.”

After Covid-19 restrictions meant only a couple of hundred selected supporters were allowed at Cooks Gardens last year, Baldwin is looking forward to the doors being fully open for another South Taranaki invasion.

2020 Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border.

“There will be a lot of support coming down to support us – there always is, from the town and the surrounding area.

“The community get behind us at this time of year. There’s no doubt, there will be a few there for Kaierau.”

Another reason for changing the training schedule was to confirm the composition of the starting XV.

Goal-kicking fullback Nick Harding, whose accurate boot literally rescued his team against Taihape in last year’s final, stayed on the bench against Marist with his leg injury, while standout No8 Semi Vodosese has been grieving the death of his mother in Fiji.

 “We’ll reassess that with what’s going on – nothing is set in stone,” said Baldwin of their possible appearances.

But there’s no mystery about who Border’s strike weapons will be.

If the forward pack led by skipper Angus Middleton and including Ranato Tikoisolomone, Hamish Mellow, Jack Hodges and Kieran Hussey can secure enough ball, then the brains trust of Lindsay Horrocks and Craig Clare will look to turn Vereniki Tikoisolomone loose.

His immediate future soon to be confirmed, Tikoisolomone has been in devastating form with 23 tries from 11 games, while Clare has played in every Cooks Gardens final since 2017, winning two titles with McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu and last year’s crown with Border.

Kaierau coach Carl Gibson does not need reminding of Clare’s influence – the two men share the Rabobank Whanganui office.

“It’s pretty good actually – I don’t believe anything he says and he doesn’t believe anything I say – we’ve been around too long. That’s what it’s all about,” Gibson said of the finals week banter.

“Maybe they’re not playing the team they thought in the final.”

Gibson said his team, filled with second generation players, is determined to live in the moment – the last time Kaierau were champions, the likes of the Robinson brothers – captain Ethan and flanker Cade – were the official ballboys.

“It’s pretty cool, the boys are all excited.

“It’s sort of hard; Border’s been the form team all year.

“We are the underdogs, but we’re ok with that, we’ll play the best we possibly can.

“You’ve just got to play what’s in front of you on the day.”

10 Craig Clare. Dave Hoskins Carriers Marist vs Waverley Harvesting Border at Spriggens Park.

 

Ethan Robinson, hooker/No8 Joe Edwards, halfback Cameron Davies and second-five Ezra Malo came through their injury comebacks against Taihape unscathed, with Robinson scoring all 16 points and needing another big day with the boot at Cooks Gardens, with Border possibly having Harding and certainly the reliable Clare.

It will be a very proud day for Ezra Malo to take the field alongside his father Ace, the sole survivor of the 2005 side, who at 41-years-old has ridden the banshee of time to guide his club from its last successful era, through the bad times, to this championship opportunity for the new generation.

They will be without winger/flanker Stu Brosnahan, who did not receive medical clearance after a head clash in the semifinal, while Gibson thought it is a long-shot whether talented flanker Dylan Bowater, who has been out with a head/neck injury for the whole second round, will make a bench cameo.

“If he’s right, we’ll consider it, but I was happy with the team that played Saturday.”

As the first Whanganui township club to make the Premier final since 2018, Kaierau will be looking to draw on plenty of local attendance, although Saturday’s weather forecast is not encouraging.

“Hopefully that’s not the case, because it should be a fun day. We’ve got all those young Kaierau supporters coming.”

Kickoff is 2.30pm.

Road to the Final

  • April 24: Border bt Marist 39-10; Kaierau bt Ruapehu 36-5
  • April 30-May 1: Border bt Ngamatapouri 54-14; Kaierau bt Marist 30-5
  • May 8: Border bt Taihape 39-22; Kaierau bt Ngamatapouri 27-13
  • May 15: Border bt Kaierau 37-10
  • May 22: Border bt Ruapehu 41-10; Kaierau lost to Taihape 32-8
  • May 29: Border bt Marist 33-5; Kaierau bt Ruapehu 22-15
  • June 12: Border bt Ngamatapouri 51-10; Kaierau lost to Marist 22-21
  • June 19: Border lost to Taihape 28-17; Kaierau lost to Ngamatapouri 17-12
  • June 26: Border bt Kaierau 44-7
  • July 3: Border bt Ruapehu 58-17; Kaierau lost to Taihape 24-3
  • July 10 (Semifinals): Border bt Marist 39-11; Kaierau bt Taihape 16-5

Border – Played: 11; Won: 10; Lost: 1; Points For: 452; Points Against: 144

Kaierau – Played: 11; Won: 5; Lost: 6; Points For: 192; Points Against: 219