North vs West – Taihape head up Ngamatapouri’s valley
(Above: Kameli Kuruyabaki is one of a handful of new acquisitions for Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri)
By Jared Smith
A first semifinal appearance since coming to Tasman Tanning Premier in 2017 and a first reign with the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield – that’s the goals for Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri this Saturday up the Waitotara Valley.
However, making the long two-and-a-half hour drive from their own clubrooms will be a Byford’s Readimix Taihape squad reinforced with some of their northern sub union cousins and eager to get back into the Premier final they missed in shock circumstances last year.
Ngamatapouri took the first bye in the new-look five team competition last Saturday, while Taihape got their feet under them in the second half at Spriggens Park, beating Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist 38-16.
Scoring their first tries for Taihape were the defunct Ruapehu Premiers’ representative players Roman Tutauha and Gabriel Hakaraia, who are also joined by the latter’s brother Te Uhi Hakaraia and multiple-time Premier player of the year Jamie Hughes.
“Our club’s very grateful for those boys to come down, and they’re grateful for the chance to play with us,” said head coach Tom Wells, who has decided to pick up the whistle again for “one more season”.
Having had an excellent 2021 campaign, including lifting the shield off rivals Waverley Harvesting Border, Taihape were shocked 16-5 by Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau in their home semifinal, leaving some unfinished business for many concerned.
“I suppose you can’t afford to drop too many things,” said Wells of the season ahead.
“Points differential and bonus points will make a huge difference, and just trying to win the whole lot of games.
“A home semifinal is going to be pretty important this year, I think.
“We’ve got the cavalry to win games even if we’re scratching, and it’s going to be tough.”
For example, Taihape will have to go without two of their better performers against Marist – try scoring halfback Tyler Rogers-Holden and hard-working flanker Lennox Shanks.
“Tyler was on a different planet to everyone else, and Lennox was outstanding.”
However, the team will welcome back their big lock Peter-Travis Hay-Horton, who played his blazer game for Steelform Whanganui last season, rejoining brothers Slade and Hadlee.
Also making the score sheet last weekend were two of the three Whale brothers – Luke and Dane – playing alongside Ben, Premier’s MVP in 2021.
But while Taihape has a settled lineup, Wells remembers from 2017 their first trip up the Waitotara Valley against Ngamatapouri – a 31-30 defeat.
If the side from South Taranaki honey country have replenished their player stocks, they will not be a group to take five competition points for granted against.
“We’re really targeting this team as a must-win game,” said Wells.
“Every time you go up the valley it’s not easy.”
Ngamatapouri’s long serving manager Gerald Pearce said around 18-20 players have made training, which by Ngamatapouri’s standards is pretty good, including some incumbent Whanganui backs.
In a side that already has Timoci (Jim) Seruwalu and Samu Kubunavanua (often a loose forward), you can add Josaia Bogileka (Marist) and Kameli Kuruyabaki (Manawatu).
After breaking his knee in 2021, former Thames Valley and NZ Heartland XV first-five Brook Tremayne is back to run the cutter, and has stepped up to a co-coaching role alongside Danny Tamehana.
Tamehana’s son Mairangi will be busy in the pack, while former Whanganui loose forward Bryn Hudson will give it a crack as long as legs hold up, and veteran prop Brad Newland has indicated he will play on the bench.
It is worth noting this Ngamatapouri team defeated both the 2021 finalists Border and Kaierau in pre-season fixtures, but the big test will be how they perform with the competition points on the line.
“Always the aim – to get to the semis, and then you’ve only got to play two games,” said Pearce.
“We were bitterly disappointed last year not to make it [when] it came down to the last game.”
In the other Premier fixture, Marist won’t have time to dwell on their first up loss as they face Border at Spriggens Park.
The draw is
Premier (2.35pm kickoffs):
Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri vs Byford’s Readimix Taihape
Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist vs Waverley Harvesting Border
Bye: Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau