100 game veterans to inspire against Swampfoxes
By Jared Smith
It was the quiet words of their veteran hooker who is lining up his historic 100th First Class game that might ring the truest for Steelform Whanganui ahead of Saturday’s Meads Cup semifinal with Thames Valley.
For the fourth straight time of asking since 2018 (the 2020-21 ‘Covid seasons’ did not have the semifinal game), the Butcher’s Boys and the Swampfoxes will battle it out for North Island supremacy in the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship.
They will battle to the end for the right to go forth and face the likely South Island kings in two-time champions South Canterbury – although Ngāti Porou East Coast may yet have something to say about that.
And despite giving up home ground advantage for the playoff by just missing a bonus point last weekend, there is no stigma for the Waikato country side to make the trek back to Cooks Gardens – having won on three of their last four visits here, including 36-33 in the 2023 season opener.
Although the side won’t have their 21-points scoring winger from that game in Fletcher Morgan – in camp with the All Black Seven’s squad – their physical forward pack led by Cameron Dromgool and their steady backs under Sam McCahon having been playing tight matches all campaign, and on most occasions come up trumps.
“They’re obliviously a well-prepared side, they come out in that game hungry, the first one,” said coach Jason Hamlin.
“We know what’s coming for us, the cards fell our way last weekend [with a bonus point].
“They’’ll be all guns blazing. Accept what that is and make sure the things they were able to do last time around, we’re countering that.
“They’re a bigger team, there’s no secret recipe to it. Get them on the ground, take away their time and space.
“No-one’s going to beat them by a massive score, there is probably less than ten points in it.
“They’re not going to beat themselves, they were physically up for the challenge last time.
“Whoever gets it more right on Saturday is gonna be the winner.”
To that end, the steady voice of 37-year-old hooker Roman Tutauha, who if his hamstring will allow it will take the field for his 100th First Class game since 2012, will set the tone.
Leading into last weekend’s crucial game with Horowhenua-Kapiti, where the side was discussing how to make sure they won with four tries to give themselves the chance to overtake Thames Valley, Tutauha set the tone.
“In Roman’s words, ‘if we do the performance part right, the result falls into place’,” recalled Hamlin.
Having captained the team on multiple occasions and won three Meads Cups and two Lochore Cups, Tutauha proudly carries the wisdom passed onto him from the likes of Peter Rowe, Matt Gilbert, David Gower, and Fraser Hammond among others – giving important guidance, especially to the host of rookie props who have debuted in the past two seasons.
“Sooner or later, it will be their ship to guide,” said Hamlin.
“Having someone with Roman and Lindsay [Horrocks]’s experience, and what they bring to the team – they drive a lot of stuff with training and attitude.
“They set the standard for what we want for the Heartland jerseys.
“Get over this hurdle, all our focus, and his 100th is part of it.”
As well as Tutauha’s hamstring being a concern, with Whanganui not naming their team until Thursday evening, lock Josh Lane has an injured collarbone and flanker Samu Kubunavanua a fractured hand.
“Trying to give [Lane] all the time for recovery, got a ready-made replacement with Matt Ashworth, but it’s how we cover [lock] afterwards,” said Hamlin.
“It’s a real shame for Samu, but it’s an opportunity for Josefa [Namosimalua].
“His work has been pretty solid [off the bench], getting his work-rate up – that will be the challenge for him, keep it as high as he can.”
With those injuries in the forwards, look for big games out of flanker Jamie Hughes and prop Raymond Salu – the former being outstanding with his line speed and chop tackles, while the latter has come from being outside the squad when they last played Thames Valley to the No1 ball carrier.
But Hamlin has asked the whole pack to make sure Salu is not a one man band – the onus on Hadlee Hay-Horton, Konradd Newland and Gabriel Hakaraia to also deliver.
Kickoff is the earlier time of 1pm.
1 Hadlee Hay-Horton; 2 Roman Tutauha; 3 Raymond Salu; 4 Peter-Travis Hay-Horton; 5 Josh Lane; 6 Josefa Namosimalua; 7 Jamie Hughes; 8 Douglas Horrocks; 9 Lindsay Horrocks; 10 Dane Whale; 11 Josaia Bogileka; 12 Timoci Seruwalu; 13 Alekesio Vakarorogo; 14 Apolosi Tanoa; 15 Peceli Malanicagi
16 Alesana Tofa; 17 Konradd Newland; 18 Gabriel Hakaraia; 19 Matthew Ashworth; 20 Ranato Tikoisolomone; 21 Eben Claassen; 22 Joshua Brunger; 23 Luke Whale
TALAWADUA: Whanganui’s former eight-test Black Fern Sosoli Talawadua will taste international rugby again after the 34-year-old front rower was named in the 30-strong Manusina (Samoa) squad who will travel to Cape Town for the WXV2 tournament, October 13-28. The Samoans will match up in pool play against USA, Japan and hosts South Africa. The other sides in the tournament are Italy and Scotland.
RECORD: Steelform Whanganui centre Alekesio Vakarorogo’s Whanganui record of five tries in a First Class game against Horowhenua-Kapiti last Saturday also tied the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship record. Vakarorogo joins North Otago’s Luke Herden (2010) and Wairarapa-Bush’s Soli Malatai (2018) in scoring five tries in one game.
SEVENS: The WRFU is calling for expressions of interest for coaches to guide the Whanganui Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams for the upcoming Central Region Sevens tournament on November 18th in Palmerston North. Please email email@example.com by this Monday.