Hunterville reclaim their place as Senior champions

By Jared Smith

Seizing opportunity on a wet and muddy day where there would only be a handful, then showing the composure to protect a slender advantage is exactly how you win your ninth championship in 13 seasons.

Kelso Hunterville are back on top of Tasman Tanning Senior after a rugged 8-6 victory over defending champions Harvey Round Motors Ratana in the opening fixture at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.

Although not facing the storm that would engulf the Premier final, the rain was still continuous and the pitch churned up, as Hunterville took the earlier territory advantage going into the wind.

First-five Joel Williamson missed his first penalty attempt but slotted the second in the 17th minute, following a strong kick-return dash from Player of the Day fullback Nick Tipling.

But a midfield spill let Ratana hack the ball into Hunterville’s dangerzone, where they struggled to clear it as Ratana winger Alan Penetito made a couple of nice catches near the sideline to keep his side on attack, then halfback Rehimana Meihana slotted an excellent penalty from near the chalk to rouse the supporters from the Pa.

Six minutes later, Ratana’s veteran lock Isaac Fonotoe, who rattled Hunterville with some big full-on body tackling, set his side away with a blindside dash and offload, leading to another penalty, this time in front for Meihana to give his side the lead at halftime.

Hunterville came out roaring in the second stanza, with prop Jamie Brett, second-five Blair Osborne, and lock Brett Illston all driving close to the tryline, with the maroons picking up a succession of offside penalties and opting for the attacking scrums.

Fonotoe, and reserve forward Scott Komene produced some awesome defence, but the weight of territory told and finally Brett, the hat-trick scorer from the semifinal, drove low with support to score under the bodies in the 56th minute.

Hunterville wasted no time in bringing on veteran Scott Parkes, who immediately looked to kick into Ratana’s corners, but a succession of penalties had the defending champions back on attack – No8 Marius Joseph surging at the defensive line.

But Ratana kept their numbers light at the breakdowns, looking to set up the next carries, while Hunterville looked to make them a contest and produced some awesome defence – pushing the ball runners back across the 22m.

Finally, Ratana looked to the penalty kick option, with 2020 grand final hero Brooklyn Herewini coming off the bench and taking over from Meihana, but into the breeze his attempt fell short into Parkes’ waiting arms.

His side then played composed rugby for the last eight minutes, grubber kicking and chipping into the corners, and Ratana could not get back out to steal the game.

It was a great way for Hunterville’s Paul Richardson, Scott Illston and Bradley Richmond to celebrate their 50th games for the club.

“We just wanted to play in their half. I thought we did that in the first half pretty well, for the first 20, then in the second half we executed for about 35 minutes there,” said delighted coach Greg Parkes.

“So pleasing, real happy that we could bring on some experienced players that could put us into those corners and keep the pressure on.

“Our forward pack has come a long way from where we have been – they compete with any side now.

“It will be a huge [party], massive, it’s already started.”

Ratana performed a stirring haka for their supporters after the medals presentation, and coach Leon Mason, who would have played if not for bicep surgery, took the defeat on the chin.

“All credit to Hunterville for taking away with the win today, we knew we were coming into a wet ground, our set up and everything that we had was awesome.

“But I think a couple of things that we may have missed in the first half that we should have done earlier on in the game, but, hey, can’t win them all.

“Big ups to our guys for staying true, believing in themselves. We knew it was going to be a hard slog against Hunterville, a very experienced team, but proud of the boys for putting their hand up, and it showed.

“We’ve got a bigger vision than upon what’s happening in the last two years, we’re just slowing building to it – it’s how we learn from it and take away from today, our future for 2024.”

Hunterville 8 (J Brett try; J Williamson pen) bt Ratana 6 (R Meihana 2 pen). HT: 6-3 Ratana.