Marist’s road rises to meet them at Country Club
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sunshine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
- Traditional Gaelic blessing
By Jared Smith
Forged through their years with St Johns Metro and Ali Arc Logistics–DNA Kennels Marist Celtic, then baptised in blood against the leading Tasman Tanning Premier clubs, Saturday was the day the youth of Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist grew up.
The 2022 competition has been turned on its ear by the events in Waverley on Friday night, and then at the Country Club – as a fired up Marist played with pace, precision and passion to overrun Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau 41-10.
A year ago it was an upset when Marist snuck through Kaierau by one point at the Country Club, but now it is becoming a habit, as a visitors showed up battle-hardened but not cowed from their losses to Byford’s Readimix Taihape and a full-strength Waverley Harvesting Border.
With his speed off the mark, standoff Rangi Kui dictated terms from first receiver and was reliable with the boot, finishing with a 21 point haul, while second-five Daniel Kauika complimented him with the vision to be creative – whether with cut out passes, short balls to straight runners or tactical kicks.
Try-scoring winger Jamie Robertson and fullback Paiki Ponga can also take a lot of pride from their afternoon’s work, as they ran, tackled and kicked with assuredness.
Kaierau, still with some injury concerns, were playing like they were waiting for something to happen, whereas Marist were vowed and determined to make something happen – it proved the difference.
Nonetheless, no backline can prosper if the work up front isn’t done, and the Marist forwards took a comfortable points decision from the scrap at the set piece and breakdown.
Plaudits will rightly go to the likes of gifted athletic prop Keightley Watson, who along with speedy centre Jack O’Leary came from a culture of winning with Metro, while Canadian import prop Marc Ouellet wasted no time in impressing when he came off the bench to charge through for Marist’s last try.
But give a tip of the hat to the dirty workmen – skipper Brad Graham, who did a u-turn on retirement, lock Brad O’Leary, hooker Jack Yarrall and prop Cameron Neilson suffered through the multiple seasons of Kaierau dominating the derby – so each had a mountain of salt to rub into the wound.
The blowout was a sad way for Kaierau flanker Cade Robinson to finish up with his family club, as he will now depart to play on Australia’s sunshine coast.
For the home side, No8 Ili Navatu was strong through the first half, winger Harry Unsworth produced some crucial cover defence with Marist’s speedsters flying at him, while young halfback Curtis Krivan-Mutu showed great courage to produce a try-saving tackle despite his shoulder already being injured.
But with kicks missing direction, repeated penalties for offside, the normally reliable locks getting beaten in the air, and one-off attacking plays with no variation being shut down – coaches Tony McBride and Te Ahu Teki have a lot of work to do.
“The energy we talked about earlier in the week just didn’t seem to be there again,” said McBride.
“Obviously the penalty count – we can’t win rugby when its 12-4 in the second half, reasonably even in the first.
“There’s a lot to work on around the ruck area, just our accuracy at the breakdown, and our defence was strong at times – but caught out going a bit too soon.
“When we had possession, just weren’t patient enough.
“We’ve yet to play our structure. When we do in patches it looks good, but there’s a long way to go.”
For Marist coach Travers Hopkins, the result was the ultimate reward for three seasons of blind faith.
“We said from the outset we had to take the game to them, I think over the last couple of weeks we’ve kind of gone into our shells at times.
“Just a bit of self belief, they’re good enough to be in this game. I think they really took it to them, which was the difference.”
Again, Kui deserved to be singled out.
“A performance like that today was probably a bit more stable – we’ve seen so many highlights of him doing what he does, but it was a real controlled performance today – put the boys in the right areas of the field, got his backs moving well.”
Up front, Marist brought the hard-nosed mentality to win the derby – Watson and co signalling it could be a new era.
“You think of what Viki [Tofa]’s done and you think, ‘is that guy replaceable’? But you have the likes of Keightley and even Marc coming over and just being part of the team and the culture, it’s really exciting stuff,” said Hopkins.
Marist will now take the bye week before they face the other Premier team building in confidence in the form of Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri.
“Every team’s beatable in this competition, and what it comes down to is making sure you do your preparation right, and coming in on Saturday with that confidence to know, ‘we’re gonna have a bloody good game here’,” said Hopkins.
Early on, it appeared to be business as usual as Kaierau flanker Tyrone Kemp made a good run, leading to a penalty for skipper Ethan Robinson to boot his team in front in the fourth minute.
But Kui replied with ninth and twentieth minute penalties as Kaierau were caught repeatedly offside when they looked to contain Marist’s speed off the mark.
Marist then uncorked an 80m try as Robertson drove through defenders and found Graham in support, before Ponga took the ball wide and linked with winger Kaokao Karimu, who got the offload back to Ponga while falling in the cover tackles for 11-3 in the 34th minute.
Despite playing without momentum, Kaierau closed the gap right before halftime after lock Matt Ashworth gave a great offload to young first-five Anthony Sellers, who charged deep into Marist’s half.
Getting a penalty, Kaierau drove from their lineout win, and Marist went to sleep as Robinson stepped through to score beside the posts.
But there was only one team in it after halftime – as Marist turned over Kaierau’s ball at the breakdown or isolated them for penalty piggybacks up the field.
Yarrell, Graham, Kauika and Kui produced some deft offloads, and then Kui swung towards the grandstand sideline to set Ponga free, who in turn put Robertson over in the corner.
With all the momentum, Kui added a two more penalties to take his side clear at 22-10, and then the floodgates opened.
Kaierau lost winger Karl Pascoe to the sinbin for knocking a pass down, and following a 5m scrum, Kauika went close to the line, before the gap opened for reserve forward Ben O’Leary to dash under the posts.
Getting a ruck turnover midfield, Brad O’Leary produced an awesome offload to his cousin Ben, who sent the ball wide for a charging Kui to outstrip exhausted defenders to the corner flag.
Kaierau in reply offered mistimed kicks and lineout throws, while Marist got their last lineout straight to set up Ouellet charging through despairing tacklers to score on fulltime.
Marist 41 (P Ponga, J Robertson, B O’Leary, R Kui, M Ouellet tries; R Kui 4 pen, 2 con) bt Kaierau 10 (E Robinson try, pen, con). HT: 11-10.