Wairarapa have the team to go one better and take top honours at this week’s 58th National Evergreens Tournament in Palmerston North.
Wairarapa coach Russell Kawana says he has a strong squad that he believes are capable of bettering their 2020 second placing in Nelson – the last time the tournament was played.
On that occasion, Wairarapa fought hard against a powerful Canterbury team in the final before going down 8-4, and taking home the Chee Family Cup as runners-up.
The tournament for players 35 years and older was not played in 2021 and 2022 because of covid-19 but will return to the diamonds with a full muster of 16 teams from throughout the country.
Wairarapa, the second seeds, have a kind draw. They will take on Hawke’s Bay [seeded seventh], Otago , and Waikato  in Group B, with the top two moving into the championship quarterfinals against the leading two teams from Group C featuring Rotorua, Hutt Valley, Wellington, and Whanganui.
Wairarapa are up made of players mostly from the Giants Blue premier two side and the Giants Red premier three team, with five pick-up players, three from Hutt Valley, and two from Manawatu.
The sole ‘American import’ is former Giants pitcher Richard Clarke who is now based in Texas and will turn out for the side during a brief visit to his home town.
Clarke will add depth to an already strong pitching line-up headed by Giants Blue thrower Justin ‘Chunky’ Karaitiana, along with Tony Nixon, and the Manawatu pair Shane Kirkwood and Ricky Matiaha.
Although pitching depth often determines tournaments, Kawana is also confident the team has the batting power in big hitters Gordon Wilmshurst, former Junior Black Sox Blair Thompson, Matt Kawana, the Waitere brothers Terry and Willie, and the Hutt Valley trio Fruen Easthope, Geoff Packer, and former Wellington rugby halfback John Bradbrook to pose a threat to most pitchers.
Kawana expects defending champions Canterbury and Auckland to be the teams to beat, but said Wairarapa have the all-round depth to go all the way and bring home the major trophy.
Wairarapa have won the premier Pop Chote Trophy once – shared with Southland in 2018 – and have been runners-up on four occasions, in 2003 to North Harbour, 2006 to Hawke’s Bay, 2014 to Auckland, and 2020 to Canterbury.
Play starts at 9am at Colquhuon Park, Palmerston North, on Friday, with Wairarapa’s final pool game at 3pm. The playoffs are on Saturday.
Wairarapa Evergreens: Gordon Wilmshurst [captain], Tony Nixon [player-coach], Mark Fricker [player-coach], Justin ‘Chunky’ Karaitiana, Blair Thompson, Matt Kawana, Terry Waitere, Willie Waitere, Chris Cox, Richard Clarke, Fruean Easthope, John Bradbrook, Geoff Packer, Shane Kirkwood, Ricky Matiaha, Russell Kawana [coach], Bryan Hourigan [manager]. Chris Feary pulled out of the playing squad due to illness.