Fortress Dallison: Can Border defend home turf against Taihape?

By Jared Smith

The opportunity to end a duck, the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield, and the chance to make a definitive statement before playoffs all on the line at Dallison Park on Saturday afternoon.

However, despite the occasion and the rivalry, both Waverley Harvesting Border and Byford’s Readimix Taihape’s major concern is combating winter fatigue.

After two years of absence due to the country being under extraordinary health measures in the face of Covid-19, the seasonal flu has landed heavily across the more open nation – with Tasman Tanning Premier players and their families no exception.

Looking to create history by doing the one thing they have not done over the past decade despite making playoffs and claiming trophies – winning up in Waverley – Taihape coach Tom Wells does not have certainty that six of his forwards will make the long trip.

Among others, standout prop Gabriel Hakaraia is recovering from Covid, flanker Lennox Shanks and lock Hoani Woodhead have been unwell, while inspirational captain Matt Brown is also a maybe as he and his partner await the arrival of a new baby.

The good news is that Taihape have the best pack depth in Premier, but with the Bennett’s Taihape side needing full numbers to play back at Memorial Park in Senior Division 2, Wells can’t guarantee he will have the usual reserve cover as they hunt to finally end their drought at Dallison.

“It will be [the goal] – we’ve come close a few times in the past six years.

“We’ve taken better teams and we’ve taken worse teams than the one we’ve got now – it’s about on-the-day.

“It would be a nice thing to tick off for the club.

“It’s like them, coming to Taihape first round, just scraping and scratching to put a team together.

“I think the backs are ok, it’s just the forwards. Whether it’s our best team is the question.”

While a few men up front have the sniffles, the backline led by Dane Whale and Tyler Rogers-Holden should have their usual shape and structure.

For nearly two full seasons Border kept everyone, not just Taihape, from winning at Dallison, until their injury concerns saw Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri close out the 16-game streak on May 6, 14-0.

Border got revenge last Saturday up the Waitotara Valley, beating Ngamatapouri 30-12 to lock in second place and a home semifinal, although heading into their last round robin fixture before taking the remaining bye before the playoffs, the home side is also looking light on numbers.

“We were pretty close to full strength [last weekend], it was a good game,” said coach Cole Baldwin.

“There’s a bit of that [flu] going on, a bit of Covid.”

Ten players were unable to attend training on Wednesday night, which included prop Renato Tikoisolomone and his midfield cousin Alekesio Vakarorogo, who in sad news have travelled home to Fiji after the death of Tikoisolomone’s youngest brother – one of three including former Border and Whanganui player Vereniki, who will travel back from Taranaki.

“They haven’t seen their family [in person] for 3-4 years,” said Baldwin.

“It’s unfortunate these events all happened at once.”

The Fijian pair will be back for the semifinals, while others, including loose forward prospect Tobias Stark, are being rested with injury.

“It will be the battle of the healthiest,” said Baldwin.

“[My] boots are in the changing room if we need it, but happy we’ve got another front rower.”

“After this week, hopefully there’s no more dramas.  We pretty much have to start again anyway [after the bye].

 “It’s going to be a tough battle, got it all in front of us. As long as the boys do their best, I’ll be happy.”

Baldwin had been furious after the first round game at Memorial Park on May 14 when his side was certainly injury depleted, but did not even fire a shot as a ruthless Taihape racked up a record 77-7 win.

 “Whatever the result is on Saturday, it’s not going to change anything [on points table], but we still want to put a decent performance out on the park.

 “Some guys will get opportunities this week, to see whether they’re good enough to take them.”

While they didn’t make training, the club’s backline generals Craig Clare and Lindsay Horrocks should be alright to run the cutter at No 9-10, the pair coming back into form in the last two games.

The other Premier clash will see Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau head up the Waitotara Valley to meet a Ngamatapouri side who know that victory will secure them their first Premier semifinal berth since joining the top grade in 2017.

The draw is

Premier (2.35pm kickoffs):

Waverley Harvesting Border vs Byford’s Readimix Taihape, Dallison Park

Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri vs Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau, Waitotara Valley

Bye: Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist