Play the game, Whanganui, play the game

By Jared Smith ( Photos by Kiwi TV)

There is one thing safe to say ahead of Saturday’s Meads Cup final at the Temuka Domain – Steelform Whanganui won’t die wondering.

Facing a South Canterbury side on a 30-game Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship winning streak and looking to join Whanganui as the only teams to win a Meads Cup three-peat, it could be easy to play an overcautious style – hesitant to extend your hand because you’re waiting for the worst to happen.

But after beating North Island rivals Thames Valley by 35-points at Cooks Gardens last Saturday, and having not faced the Cantabrians since last year’s final in Pleasant Point, coach Jason Hamlin knows the only way to break the streak is by being proactive, not reactive.

“[In the semifinal], we played some rugby.

“That’s the blueprint of what we want to take forward.

“We’ve got to go down there and do what we recognise is going to win us the game.

“Tackle like mad and keep the ball. We’ve got to play our footy.

“When we get it right, we can put teams under pressure, with or without the ball.”

After demolishing Thames Valley, Whanganui were interested television viewers up at the Cooks Gardens lounge as it looked like a brave Ngāti Porou East Coast could pull off the upset in the other semifinal, leading 17-3 after 50 minutes.

But relentless pressure from the hosts, including from their very deep bench, saw East Coast lose players to the sinbin back-to-back for professional fouls and the machine wore them down for a 34-17 defeat.

Radar-like Sam Briggs slotted 14-points while barnstorming No8 Sui Kakala scored his 13th try of the competition – joining Alekesio Vakarorogo is sitting just one try behind the Heartland season record of 14, set in the inaugural 2006 season by Whanganui’s Pati Fetuai.

For Hamlin, fitness and trust in team mates to do the job defending outside you is the key to cutting down on penalties – until winger Josaia Bogileka’s yellow mid-way through the second half last Saturday, which ultimately did not cost points, Whanganui had gone this entire Heartland campaign without adding any members to the ‘card club’.

“They’re a hard enough team to defend with 15 players without making it harder with one or two less.

“We saw the precursor to it with the Coast being able to put them under pressure, take the space away, and having the enthusiasm for it.”

Other key men in a South Canterbury team with over a half dozen incumbent NZ Heartland XV players is veteran halfback Willie Wright and dangerous fullback Liueli Simote, who scored twice against East Coast.

Notably this season, on five occasions the Cantabrians have trailed at halftime and still pulled out the win, as they did last year in the final with Whanganui, 47-36.

A big key to that is utilising a bench with a fine balance of Heartland veterans and explosive youth, whereas Whanganui as of Thursday night training were still confirming the final component of their impact players.

After Samu Kubunavanua fractured his hand against Horowhenua-Kapiti, Josefa Namosimalua slotted in well at blindside flanker, but unfortunately for this game, his replacement in the reserves Ranato Tikoisolomone is unavailable.

Hamlin may well leave the decision on his 23rd man to the last minute, as the entire remaining Whanganui extended squad of around 27 will head south.

“We’ll take as many as is available to go with us,” he said.

“We’ll see how long our stars can go and what we need off our bench, because we know South Canterbury add when they come on.”

Whanganui fly out of Friday to Timaru and will make the 20 minute bus trip to Temuka to inspect the ground.

However, because of a lack of accommodation available in the South Canterbury capital, they will have to travel further north a further 45 minutes to stay the night in Ashburton.

Kickoff for the match is 2.05pm, live on Sky Sport.

The squad will be chosen from:
(TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT will be Friday)

Forwards: Matt Ashworth, Gabriel Hakaraia, Hadlee Hay-Horton, Doug Horrocks, Peter-Travis Hay-Horton, Jamie Hughes, Josh Lane, Josefa Namosimalua, Konradd Newland, Raymond Salu, Alesana Tofa, Roman Tutauha, Emmanuel Wineera.

Backs: Josaia Bogileka, Eben Classen, Lindsay Horrocks, Peceli Malanicagi, Sheldon Pakinga, Timoci Seruwalu, Apolosi Tanoa, Brook Tremayne, Alekesio Vakarorogo, Silio Waqalevu, Dane Whale, Luke Whale.

Apprentice players: Josh Brunger, Neo Tichbon.