Blindside flanker Popoai Finau charges upfield for Waipu in their win over Western Sharks at home. Photo / Tania Whyte
A new winner will likely be crowned in the Tyrepower Premier rugby competition this weekend as the race for the top four finish heats up in the last round this week.
Mathematically, defending champions Western Sharks are still in the play-offs despite another defeat on Saturday—their fourth this season—but will have to bag the maximum five points against Ngati Hine Moerewa this week and hope other results go their way.
Hora Hora currently lead the table with 33 points, Mid Northern are second, just two points behind, Kamo are third on 26 points and Waipū fourth on 25.
Moerewa and Old Boys Marist (OBM) are on 23 points each and the Sharks on 22.
OBM play Kamo and Waipū host Hikurangi this week. Only Hora Hora and Mid Northern are through to the play-offs at this stage.
On a dank day at Caledonian Park on Saturday, neither hosts Waipū nor the Sharks had a blueprint for winter rugby embedded in their DNA. Neither have been comfortable with a wet ball and heavy field and the result was spilled balls, stray kicks and a struggle to string decent phases together.
The visitors gave Waipū a slosh of easy penalties in the first spell that got the scoreboard ticking over but tries were hard to come by in the face of a resolute defence.
The home side knocked the ball near the tryline in quick succession on three occasions while trying to leverage the cracks they felt they could see but the Sharks didn’t break.
That was probably the best the Sharks could offer and skipper Matt Matich lamented a disappointing season when his side was unable to field its best 15.
Waipū won the match 28-13.
“It’s been a very tough season…just little things popping up, the boys had work to do, Covid and stuff like that, so we haven’t been able to field our best 15. We lost a lot of players from last year, so it’s been hard work,” Matich said.
The former Northland Taniwha loose forward philosophy was about where the game against Waipū was lost.
“We couldn’t get anything going in attack, the ball was very slippery, we were dropping lineout ball, dropping ball at the back of the ruck, dropping ball left and right. The set piece was struggling a bit too so it doesn’t t help when you’re dropping the ball.
“This kind of weather doesn’t suit us at all, we’re a ball-running team and it hampers our style. The breakdown was really slow because the ball was very bubbly at the back. It’s similar to the final last year where we couldn’t get anything going but we came away with it that day,” Matich said.
The Sharks edged Mid Northern 10-7 in last year’s premier final at Semenoff Stadium.
Waipū captain Jonah Mau’u is relishing the opportunity to play in the playoff if his side can beat Hikurangi on Thursday evening and bag five points.
After being badly exposed by Wellsford 30-17 in the rain on June 6, Mau’u said his players trained in wet conditions last week and it paid dividends against the Sharks.
“We said to the boys at the start of training we wanted to come out and it was a do-or-die moment for us. We really needed to front up, and that’s what we did.”
After a frustrating first spell, he said the boys found chinks in the Sharks’ armor in the second half, drew them in and used speed outside to score.
In the other premier games last weekend, the Mid Northern and Kamo match wasn’t played due to Covid, Hora Hora thumped Hikurangi 62-7, OBM beat Wellsford 26-12 and Kerikeri lost to Moerewa 34-18.