Waqa, Carterton steal the show. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Another Wairarapa-Bush club rugby season has come and gone, and it’s time to reflect on the good and not-so-good from the past three months.
Once again, the start of season was affected by covid-19, delaying that for three weeks. The competition format reverted to 2021’s – three games in the ‘Town and Country’ series, with the top team from each group to meet in the final, played when the teams met in the championship.
Although a good concept, with the final at Carterton attracting a big crowd, the format that points did not carry on into the championship meant that some teams treated the three games
as an ideal preseason.
In my opinion, that significantly devalued the competition and did not give due respect to Wai-Bush legend Lane Penn, of whom the trophy is named in honour.
East Coast proudly lifted the Lane Penn Trophy, winning a close final 17-15 over Carterton.
Anyhow, let’s cast an eye over the highlights and lowlights.
Admittedly I have seen some teams more than others, and some of my observations come from various conversations with coaches, players, referees, and supporters.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
The ‘Maroons’ were determined to break their 12-year championship drought after going agonisingly close in losing 25-30 to Greytown in 2021. They started the season as favourites, having strengthened their squad.
The return of veterans such as tough-as-teak lock Lachie McFadzean added depth and grunt to the forward pack, plus the team boasted one of the stronger benches, which paid dividends in several games.
In the end, Carterton were deserved Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup winners, finishing the stronger when it mattered most in the last quarter of the final.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
It’s hard to go past the flying Fijian fullback, who set the season alight with some scintillating tries, including a memorable 80m effort in the final. I can’t wait to see him a Wai-Bush jersey, but he needs to tidy up the unforced errors.
GAME OF THE YEAR
The ‘Moose’ Kapene Cup final
Although it was littered with many basic handling errors, the decider produced five of the best tries seen in the province for some time.
If two brilliant individual efforts from 70m and 40m to Marist centre Charles Mataitai weren’t enough, Waqa capped the day with his 80m stunner, then ran on to a superb inside pass from Tupou Lea’aemanu to give Carterton a late lead and had a hand in the final try — a well worked movement from a scrum finished by winger Fiula Tameilau.
TRY OF THE YEAR
Take your pick from Mataitai’s finals five pointers, or Waqa’s final scorcher.
Then there was the brilliant long-range Martinborough try started by winger Tristan Flutey and finished by fullback Nathan Hunt in the semifinal loss to Marist. It’s a shame it came when the game was done and dusted.
THEM OFF AWARD
There was plenty of doom and gloom talk that ‘Gladdy’ would struggle following the retirement of legendary coach Steve Thompson, and the loss of several experienced players.
New coaches Stan Wright and Charlie Bargh introduced some new philosophies, and although those took a while to bed in, Gladstone powered into the semifinals, only to be ousted by a Carterton side hitting their straps
The defending champions were the shadow of the team who finished the 2021 season unbeaten. The loss of too many experienced players and a lack of players progressing from the senior reserve team, injuries, and illness impacted heavily, and Greytown battled to a disappointing two wins over the season.
HIGH HOPES BUT
NOT QUITE THERE
East Coast and Pioneer
The Coasties locked away the Lane Penn Trophy, and Hodder Steffert Cup for the bottom four.
The ‘Moose’ Kapene semifinals were always the aim though and three close losses and a draw in their last four games were costly.
Pioneer promised much early in the season but fell away badly in the second half of the season, not helped by injuries to key players such as midfielder Nikora Ewe and promising flanker Joe Roberts.
Utility back Reece Calkin capped a top season earning selection in the Wai-Bush squad.
No wins, an ageing squad, lack of depth, and no senior reserve side do not bode well for the province’s northernmost team. A lot of off-season work is needed to rejuvenate the proud Eke club.
OF THE YEAR
Wai-Bush’s leading referee controlled his eighth straight premier final, equalling former international referee Bob Francis.
Payne’s cool and calm nature and feel for the game, ensured an open entertaining final.
WHAT’S NEEDED FOR
There are clearly issues with player numbers, with four premier clubs — Greytown, Gladstone, Martinborough, and Eketahuna — regularly bemoaning the lack of premier quality players.
That begs the question: Is an eight-team competition still viable in the current environment where there simply aren’t the playing numbers, with a sharp decline in recent years?
In previous articles, I have pushed for a six-team competition, but how is that achieved, and how does a hardworking, motivated club such as Masterton Red Star improve their prospects of returning to the top division? Does that make an all-in first round a reasonable possibility?
There are many hard decisions for the Council of Clubs to consider, but most delegates are charged with looking after the interests of their own clubs, so it’s hard to envisage anything different for 2023.
The Winston Churchill quote: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”, comes to mind. However, I don’t have the confidence in our rugby decision-makers to make the improvements needed, so doesn’t their reluctance for change make them part of the problem?