Undefeated Horowhenua Kapiti hunt Whanganui’s Bruce Steel Memorial Cup

“It’s gonna be one or the other, baby!

“It’s gonna be him, or it’s gonna be us!”

  • Mike Lowrey (Will Smith), Bad Boys, 1997

By Jared Smith (Photos by Merrilyn George )

Silverware, finals spots, and derby bragging rights – they’re all on the line when a battle-hardened Horowhenua Kapiti come hunting for the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.

What was originally supposed to their Bunnings Warehouse Heartland season opener on August 21 now comes at the pivotal halfway point of the competition, as Steelform Whanganui will be in one of the three games this weekend where the current Top 6 sides all play each other.

With undefeated Thames Valley hosting Mid Canterbury in Te Aroha and southern rivals North Otago and South Canterbury meeting in Oamaru, Whanganui coach Jason Caskey knows the preliminaries are well and truly over in the race to the Top 2.

“They’ll both be interesting [games], and with us and HK, there could be a lot of movement at the top.

“They’re the ones, that it’s a chance to pull teams back now.

“Tough games, but the ball’s in our court.”

Whanganui looked to be running themselves into some form in the 48-13 win in Taupo over King Country and their All Black Sam Cane, as they scored three tries in the dying minutes.

After a season with some head-scratching referee and touch judge calls, there was another at Owen Delany Park following Whanganui’s seventh try, as the team rushed back to halfway, only to be informed by the official that time had expired.

“I asked Darryl [Robinson, manager], who said there was still 3-4 minutes, the commentators thought there was five,” said Caskey.

“We missed an opportunity to get some more for points differential.”

Captain Campbell Hart and fellow flanker Jamie Hughes, who came into the original preseason with injuries, were at their determined best in Taupo.

Hart’s lineout work was crucial with Whanganui missing the injured Peter-Travis Hay-Horton, while Hughes had to draw Cane’s admiration with his workrate.

 “To be fair, I would expect our forwards to be dominant against King Country,” said Caskey.

“We have to keep stepping up a notch every week.

“South Canterbury will be a step up again. But one week at a time.”

Indeed, undefeated Horowhenua-Kapiti have been winning tight matches all campaign, holding off West Coast (28-21) and Buller (27-12) in games down the South Island’s far coast, while defending home turf in Levin against North Otago (25-17) and East Coast (38-31).

“Nothing’s changed too much to what they’ve been in previous years,” said Caskey.

The visitors play a forward orientated game – led by their inspiring lock Ryan Shelford, while fellow lock Daniel Smith and hooker Bryn Gordon top the try-scorers list with three each.

Of concern to Whanganui, with their knack for giving away infringements, is the match-winning kicking form of halfback Jack Tatu-Robinson, who has coolly slotted 12 conversions and eight penalties so far this campaign for 48 points in matches that were not blowouts.

As well as Ezra Malo having made his debut last weekend, prop and fellow Heartland Hurricanes Under 20 rep Keightley Watson resumes training with the squad, both of them the 2021 apprentice players.

Lock Josefa Rokotakala and hooker/prop Jack van Bussel return from the completed Whanganui Development XV season, with van Bussel having previously made his Heartland debut of the bench against Wairarapa Bush when Dylan Gallien was unavailable.

Kickoff will be at 2.30pm.