The 2019 division one club rugby season is building to an exciting climax.
The final round-robin games were contested at the weekend, leaving four teams still standing, with their eyes firmly fixed on the trophy and all quite capable of lifting it.
The sub-union semifinals, to be played at Lansdowne Park on Saturday, will see Waitohi meet Renwick and East Coast do battle with Central. Given recent results, both games will be too hard to accurately predict.
Even finding a favourite for the overall title is no easy feat, especially after Saturday’s stalemate in Seddon, which ensured both East Coast and Waitohi will finish 2019 with at least one trophy in their cabinets.
The teams drew 13-13 after a willing contest at the Seddon Domain meaning the Coasters retain the John Goodman Trophy, contested among all Tasman’s premier club teams. Waitohi hang onto the Marlborough sub-union Challenge Trophy, having not lost a game to any local opposition this season.
But it was a close-run thing. Waitohi led 6-5 at halftime, thanks to two Corey Bovey penalties, before Myles Hamilton added a penalty to Seymour Lambert’s first-half try to reclaim the lead. A converted try to livewire loosie Taine Cragg-Love saw the visitors establish a 13-8 lead then, with seven minutes to go, East Coast hooker Billy Collins dotted down close to the corner flag to level the scores. Hamilton’s conversion was astray, but both sides had chances to ice the game in the final, hectic minutes.
However rugged defence and some poor option-taking by both sides ensured the scores remained tied up at the final whistle.
While the closeness of the scoreline kept the crowd on the sidelines and in the cars lining the park entertained the quality of play, especially back play, was not high. Both sides made regular errors, constantly inviting their opponents into the game.
Hamilton tackled superbly for the Coasters, along with loosies Jake Collins, Sam Lunn lock Jordan Judge, halfback Nemia Ranuku and centre Ben Filipo.
Cragg-Love, whose ability to exert pressure on defensive clearances set up his side’s only try, was also outstanding up front, along with prop Duane Aholelei, lock Dylan Burns and No 8 Taimi Fangatua. Stand-in halfback Euygene Taylor did a good job, while first five Bovey, centre Daniel Samita and fullback Tim O’Malley were also influential.
East Coast skipper Seymour Lambert said although his side was disappointed with the draw, the fact they retained the Goodman Trophy was “huge”.
“It really means something to us. Since we won it off Stoke … we have cherished it. It’s been at our training and is something we have been determined to keep.
“You could see glimpses of that today in our attitude.”
Lambert said his side had not discussed the semifinals yet, but would now concentrate on their forthcoming battle with Central.
“It’s winner-take-all in the play-offs and we are looking to make history … we have been in the semis before but this time we are keen to go all the way.”
In Saturday’s other division one game, Renwick continued their late-season resurgence with a 34-10 victory over Moutere at Awarua Park.
The Green Machine led 10-0 at halftime after a closely fought first 40. Unconverted tries to fullback Michael Dillon and outstanding loosie Cody Weir gave them an advantage, but it was matched by the home side who levelled the score with a converted try and a penalty after eight minutes of the second spell.
However, from then on it was Renwick’s day. A brace of tries from lineout drives to veteran loose forward Cory Holdaway pushing them clear before two further converted efforts sealed the deal.
The 42-year-old Holdaway, a former Red Devils skipper and inaugural Mako player, took the opportunity to play alongside sons Josh and Jaydn for the first time in Renwick’s colours.
“It was a really tough first half, we were probably guilty of trying to do too much, too early, without earning the right,” said Renwick coach Glen Blackmore, adding that his side had basically “worn them down”.
“But Moutere certainly never gave up, they hung in there.”
Moutere were reduced to 14 men from midway through the first half when halfback Owen Ika, who had been binned for a high tackle, came back on without a mouthguard and was then sent off for a second yellow card offence.
Blackmore singled out Weir, prop Quinn Harrison-Jones, Atu Taufa, Cory Holdaway, first five Dion Narayan, midfielder Mike Vaeno and Dillon for special mention.
A down side was losing winger Orisi Erenavula to injury, putting him in doubt for next week’s play-offs.
East Coast 13 (Seymour Lambert, Billy Collins tries, Myles Hamilton pen) Waitohi 13 (Taine Cragg-Love try, Corey Bovey 2 pens, con). HT: 6-5 Waitohi.
Renwick 34 (Cory Holdaway 2, Cody Weir, Jan Hasenlechner, Michael Dillon, Dion Narayan tries, Dillon 2 con) Moutere 10 (Aki Kaumavae try, Max Freydell pen, con). HT: 10-0 Renwick
Final standings: Waitohi 46, Central 32, East Coast 31, Renwick 28, Moutere 13.