Think it’s all-Country? Kaierau say otherwise

By Jared Smith

Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau coach Mike Lama agrees after all the banter about Country’s superiority to Town in Tasman Tanning Senior, it was good for his city slickers to remind everyone they’re still on the cusp of something great.

Kaierau have been a Top 4 team the last two seasons of Senior – the club’s two teams having a strong symmetry of co-operation and encouragement with Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau breaking through to the Premier final in 2021.

When this season’s Senior competition was split into Town and Country groups, with the Top 3 from each qualifying for Division 1, Kaierau dutifully went through the first round unbeaten with five wins.

Lama had expected the ultra-tough Country games would mean those sides had beaten each other up enough that Kaierau could lift a gear above them – but that notion was quickly dispersed by the 28-10 loss to Ratana at the Country Club on May 28.

Having taken a body blow, Kaierau bounced back on Saturday when they travelled to Marton Park to face Ratana’s unbeaten Rangitikei neighbours JJ Walters Marton, winning a 5-0 trench warfare match to lift the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield in horrible conditions.

“It was blimming rain sideways, then sun came down, and then it poured some more and hard rain,” said Lama.

“That was the only outcome we were looking for – was the win and take the shield, and get to where we want to be, which is the semifinals.”

Having an eye for youth talent, as he also coaches the successful Whanganui High School 1st XV, Lama and his staff are cultivating players who can make an impact on Premier.

Flanker Mason Johnson captained the side in Marton, leading a forward pack with the likes of lock Devon Johnson, No8 Arasi Filo and flanker Neo Tichbon, who combined with utility back Anthony Sellers to lay on the game’s sole try.

“Neo – he’ll tackle day and run it up all night,” said Lama.

“Anthony – just give him the ball and he makes it happen.”

Lama also has big wraps on winger Jordyn Leiasamaivao-Turvey, who has pace to burn.

But any good WRFU Senior squad is a mix of youth on their way up and the veterans who are guiding them.

Lama calls club legend Ace Malo, who has finally stepped back from Premier in his 40’s, as “The Terminator” – because he just keeps coming back.

Dion Hyland, John Prince, and Liam Stevenson remain steady hands.

“Having those boys who have been around, really helps,” said Lama.

“They were there when the team was bottom of the table, now they get to be part of the team that’s around the top.”

And getting to the top remains Kaierau’s goal – trying to get to the last game of the season on July 16 after two campaigns where they closed out one weekend early.

“When it gets to finals, every game counts, but we’ve got the group, and we have the belief.

“There’s a good culture at the moment, that we’ve covered the last 2-3 seasons.”

That will be tested this weekend in the derby with Black Bull Liquor Pirates, who are now in do-or-die mode for staying in the playoff hunt after two Division 1 losses.

 “We don’t count anyone out – Pirates are a team that come back and bite you if you give them a chance.”

The draw is

Senior (1pm kickoffs unless noted, times subject to change):

Division 1

Kaierau vs Pirates, Country Club; Celtic vs Ruapehu, Spriggens Park; Marton vs Ratana, Marton Park.

Division 2

Utiku Old Boys vs Taihape, Memorial Park; Buffalos vs Hunterville, Racecourse No1; Counties bye.