How will the club with one of the best Jubilee Cup records of all over the past decade adjust to life in the Hardham Cup? After a lacklustre Swindale Shield campaign that saw them win just two of 11 matches, Poneke will be eager to claim the consolation prize of the Premier 2 title.
Poneke's Jubilee Cup record is impressive having made six finals between 1999-2010 (winning it in 2003) and again making the semi-finals last year. But a lack of strike-power out wide and goal kicking woes have proved key to Poneke's problems to date and why they've missed out on contesting the Jubilee Cup in 2012. They scored just 18 tries in 11 games in the Swindale Shield, scoring a four try bonus point just once and that was against Rimutaka in their season opener.
Poneke also lost games or missed out on bonus points due to goal kicking woes, an issue they may rectify in the second round following the recent arrival of first five-eighth Cameron Clement from Neath, Wales. Clement arrived three weeks ago, played a game for the second XV, was struck down by flu for a week and then played in the 13-31 last round loss to Ories. He comes with pedigree as the son of former Welsh fullback and 1993 British and Irish Lion New Zealand tourist Tony Clement.
With winter closing in, Poneke will also get good value from its forwards. The tougher and more adverse the conditions the more they love it. With players in there such as the Moananu brothers, Ally Paine, Andrew Castle, Judd Baker, Presley Tufaga, Galu Taufale and experienced halfback Brad Faulkner, they will be heavily favoured to be one of the finalists at season's end.
Old Boys University must be considered to be their nearest challenger, but how quickly can the students pick themselves up from the agony of missing out on the Jubilee Cup?
Having assembled a decent sized pack to compete with the big teams, together with their usual complement of fleet-footed backs, OBU have looked every part a Jubilee Cup side this year. But in the closest Swindale Shield in years, they missed on making the top eight with Petone's superior points differential pushing them out.
It was a similar story last year when OBU also finished ninth and had to settle for playing in the Hardham Cup, before sweeping all before them and winning seven from seven and averaging winning margins of five tries to one in every game on route to the semi-finals. They accounted for Norths B in their semi-final before losing 20-25 to Tawa in the final. OBU, who celebrate their 21st birthday on the final weekend of the regular season at the end of July, will hope to have something to cheer about.
From the Swindale Shield, Poneke and OBU and joined by the Wests Roosters and Rimutaka. The Roosters are perhaps the greatest enigma of Wellington club rugby. Playing in their fifth consecutive Hardham Cup in 2012, Wests are well capable of rocking the boat and making the final ahead of either Poneke or OBU. They proved this in earlier wins over Petone (34-22) and Norths (27-11).
Rimutaka will be licking their wounds, but expect them to regroup and come back stronger against mostly weaker opposition than they've been facing. Their last two matches were against HOBM and a rampant Norths with a point to prove, so they should find life in the Hardham Cup much easier. All it could take is a win to boost confidence and form and they could be away.
Joining the four current Premier clubs in the Hardham Cup is Johnsonville, with their inclusion sure to add spice to the end of season promotion-relegation battle. One of these five clubs will miss out on next year's Swindale Shield and Johnsonville are hoping it's one of the others at their expense.
Johnsonville realise the huge task they have ahead of them to make the Swindale Shield in 2013 but if they lift their game a notch over the next seven weeks, a place among the big guns of Wellington club rugby next year is not beyond them.
Johnsonville won seven and drew one of their 11 Harper Lock Shield games of 2012 but, with a little luck, may well have gone through unbeaten. The draw (against Petone) would have been a win had the last-minute conversion from close range gone over; the loss to HOBM followed two Johnsonville players being sent off; the loss to OBU followed a length of the field intercept try to the latter and the loss to Harper Lock winners MSP resulted from an MSP try in the last play of the game.
This Johnsonville side will field one of the lighter packs in the competition but what it lacks in size it hopes to make up for through speed to the breakdown and all-round commitment.
The team's standout player to date this season has been flanker Louis Karl and others to watch out for are strong-running second-five James Faaatuata, speedy wing Tawera Rameka-Styles and goal-kicking first five-eighth Scott Mudgway. The coaches are Andrew Wharakura and Richard Higgins.
The three other teams in this Hardham Cup are ‘B' teams from Marist St. Pat's, Northern United and Wainuiomata. Neither can be promoted next year, but are sure to provide nuisance value for the big five. MSP, for one, won't consider their role as spoilers. The recently crowned Harper Lock Shield champions will be out to upset the established clubs and send their team through to the Hardham Cup playoffs and beyond. Similarly, the Norths second XV made last year's Hardham Cup semi-finals, losing to top qualifier OBU 35-20. Wainuiomata B fell away towards the end of the Harper Lock Shield and finished sixth, but they too will want to put in a good showing in their first Hardham Cup.
In an intriguing set of first round Hardham Cup matches of the rugby kind, Wests host OBU at Ian Galloway Park at 3.00pm in the feature match. OBU and Wests matches are always tight affairs as evidenced by OBU's 10-6 win in the Swindale Shield, so this could be a cracker. After meeting defeat to Wainuiomata's top team in the first round, Poneke travel to William Jones Park to play the Wainuiomata second XV at 1.15pm, MSP host Rimutaka at Evans Bay Park at 1.15pm and Johnsonville host Norths at Helston Park at 3pm in a repeat of their first round Barlow Trophy encounter won 20-19 by Johnsonville.
It's also the first round of the 10-team Senior 1 second round Ed Chaney Cup and HD Morgan Memorial Trophies. Based on first round form, OBU and Poneke will be favoured to set the pace in the nine-week round-robin series. Both qualified for the Hardham Cup but were unable to progress higher due to their top teams missing out on the Jubilee Cup.
Wellington and Upper Hutt will hope to make the successful transition up from the Senior 2 grade in the first round. The Wellington Axemen were unbeaten in the Senior 2 first round competition while Upper Hutt's sole defeat was to Wellington.
In games of note this week, OBU will be hoping to beat Paremata-Plimmerton who finished ninth in the first round when they meet at Ngatitoa Domain at 3pm, Wellington meets a HOBM side that were solid midtable finishers in round one at Hataitai Park at 3pm, and Upper Hutt hosts Poneke at Maidstone Park at 1.15pm.
In the Senior 2 grade, highest qualifier and third placed finisher from the first round Norths play bottom placed first round finisher Petone, fourth placed Poneke play 10th placed Stokes Valley, fifth placed HOBM meet eighth placed MSP, sixth placed Avalon and ninth placed Ories meet and seventh placed OBU and 11th placed Wests meet.
In fourth round Women's Victoria Tavern matches, unbeaten Norths host Ories who grabbed their first win of the season last Saturday against OBU, Stokes Valley are out to grab their first victory of the second round against Wainuiomata at Delany Park and Eketahuna will want to bounce back from their loss at home at the hands of Wainuiomata when they play OBU at Martin Luckie Park.
It's top versus bottom in the fourth round of the Premier 1 college First XV competition, with Wellington College up against Aotea College away at 2.30pm. Three days after this, Wellington College turn to face South Island Press Cup hotshots Christchurch Boys' High School at home, so they're sure to have one eye on that forthcoming clash against the CBHS side that has recently beaten defending Press Cup champions St. Bede's 13-7 and Nelson College 24-19.
In other matches, Scots College host Rongotai College and HIBS entertain St Pat's Silverstream in two neighbourhood battles, while St Bernard's and St Pat's Town meet in Lower Hutt.