They call them the “Sparkies”.
These are the Tasman bench players whose role it is to come onto the paddock, usually around the 60-minute mark, and add spark to the Mako’s game.
They are a vital part of the team’s winning equation, especially when the starting XV are struggling to seize control of proceedings, as was the case in Hamilton on Saturday before they pulled away for a 35-26 victory.
The late-game impact of bench players Wyatt Crockett, Isaac Salmon, Finlay Christie, Leicester Faingaanuku, Sione Havili, Sam Moli, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta and Fetuli Paea allowed the Mako to not only retain the level of intensity they had created since halftime, but also to raise it.
Their part in getting the Mako across the line for the seventh time this season is not lost on co-head coach Andrew Goodman, who watched the game from his Nelson home, as he waits for his wife to give birth.
“The bench players have been bringing a bit of spark coming into the game for the last two weeks – the boys that came on really brought some energy with them and helped kick that last 20 minutes off well.”
While the ‘Sparkies’ undoubtedly played their part, some of the guys who trotted out at the start were equally outstanding, namely man-of-the-match Jordan Taufua, hooker Hugh Roach, lock Quinten Strange, Ethan Blackadder, the mulit-talented David Havili, Alex Nankivell and Will Jordan.
Goodman said while Tasman were not at their best in the first 40 minutes, Waikato had played well.
“They were right up for it with it being Dwayne Sweeney’s 100th game as well but we made our own misfortune.
“Just the discipline thing again … there was a few offside penalties and a couple at the breakdown, our set piece defence probably wasn’t up to standard either … but again the boys showed some real grit and character in the second half to come back out with five points.
“However, we need to set the intensity [of the game], not try to match it later in the game.”
Akin to a boxer in a title fight, Tasman enjoyed a relatively smooth passage through the first few rounds before having to dig deep to take the points during stand-up stoushes over the last two rounds.
Goodman is adamant that experience will benefit his charges as they near the business end of the Mitre 10 Cup season.
“It’s great for our squad that we can do that … in past years we may not have come out on top of those games but we have showed good composure, we turned things around well, held onto the ball and when we managed to put some phases together we played some great football and managed to score some good tries.”
It was perhaps fitting that the game-clinching try was scored by reserve prop Wyatt Crockett, who has been at the heart of his side’s second half resurgences.
“How good was that?” asked the Mako coach. “Crocky has been invaluable to the squad on and off the field, he’s great to have around.”
A first half injury to Mako first five Tim O’Malley, with first-choice No 10 Mitch Hunt already on the injured list, had the potential to cause some issues but skipper David Havili calmly slotted into the playmaker’s role.
“Dave’s really comfortable in there. He’s got a great skill set, a good catch-pass and you saw today how accomplished he is as a goal-kicker … it’s great to know he can do a job like that.”
With just six days to prepare for the arrival of defending champions Auckland in Nelson, it was back to work for the Mako early this week.
With every opponent now lifting their game in a bid to knock the Mako off the top of the NPC pedestal, and the injury toll mounting, things will only get tougher.
Just as well the “Sparkies” are ready, willing and waiting.