With only three weeks remaining in the Swindale Shield, the stakes are high. If Hutt Old Boys Marist, Tawa and Ories all lose in this Saturday's eleventh round, their prospects of making the Jubilee Cup semi-finals are all-but over.
HOBM will host top of the table Old Boys University smarting from their shock loss to the Upper Hutt Rams. The Eagles had a bonus point secured, but poor discipline was a constant and a last minute converted try gave the Rams a 25-24 triumph.
With the likes of Ben Power, Rei Manaia, Pakai Turia and Brandyn Laursen, HOBM has the artillery to beat anybody, but only an 80 minute performance will topple OBU who trailed Petone for most of the match but finished strongly to win 30-23.
WRFU Academy members Shamus Hurley-Langton, Caleb Delaney and Callum Harkin all delivered big plays in the dying stages for the Billy Goats, while Sam Reid scored two cracking tries, a feat he achieved against the Eagles in 2017. Tomorrow, Delaney is missing from their line-up, but Hurricane Wes Goosen starts at centre and Highlander Teariki Ben Nicholas comes into No. 8. Can the Eagles overcome the inconsistency that has plagued them all season? If it does not happen this weekend, it never will. The two teams also contest the Wood Cup interclub trophy.
Consistency of defeat has been the issue for the Avalon Wolves and Johnsonville. Both sides are winless, but the Hawks who have not won any fixture since 2018 have lost four games inside seven points in contrast to Avalon who have the worst defence of 2020. They have all tried hard this season, but can they match the sheer desperation of Hawks regulars PJ Sheck, Bodene Davis and Andrew Ellis to finally get a win?
Winning hasn’t been a problem for Marist St Pats in 2020 with eight successes from 10. With Paremata-Plimmerton, Wellington and Johnsonville to come, the Reds are a serious chance of Swindale glory. Tyrone Thompson and Isaia Petelo with two tries each were standouts in a settled squad against Poneke last week. There are a handful of personnel changes tomorrow, including the inclusion of Super Rugby players Naitoa Ah Kuoi at lock and Billy Proctor at centre. Paremata-Plimmerton were bashed 5-90 by Norths and will struggle to recover. With three wins this season though, Paremata-Plimmerton have punched above their weight and the likes of Shane Hedges, Peni Taupau and Taisson Lealaisalanoa are always hearty.
Petone have greater heart than what they have had in a decade and went close against the students. Willie Fine was excellent in midfield and 2019 captain returns on from injury on the bench there as well. Fullback Piri Paraone sits out this one with a head knock. Expect a close tussle with both sides strong almost everywhere. Tawa however have only converted 25 of 47 tries while Petone have kicked more penalties (16) than any other club. Logan Henry is the leading points scorer in 2020 with 122.
Goal-kicking has been a weakness for Oriental Rongotai with only 18 of 40 tries converted. By contrast, Norths are on an eight-game win streak and have scored more tries (64) than any other club. Norths experience in the pack and a combination of experience in the inside backs growing confidence out wide might be too hard for a competitive Ories to suppress. Hurricanes first five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop will run the cutter for Norths, while the Ories backline will feature Steven and Rueben Va’a.
These two sides will also play for the To’omaga Alex Iona Memorial Cup on Saturday.
The Ories - Norths match is also the The E Tu Whanau Footy Show commentary game. Tune into 1161AM or 87.6FM (Wellington City) or listen live online from 2.00pm at http://www.teupoko.co.nz/
Wainuiomata and the Upper Hutt Rams are out of Jubilee Cup semi-final reach but will play with plenty of expression. The Rams produced their best effort of 2020 to stun the Eagles. Josh Dewar, Scott Svenson, Hokinga Morunga and Aidan Woodward were among the heroes. Wainuiomata will look to bring the physicality. The visiting backs feature former Ram Tyler Tane who is having a top season, Josh Robertson Weepu and TJ Va’a, while previously injured Ruben Love and Sam Smith both start off the bench. Expect a tight one for the Peter Jones/Dave Ritchie Cup on Upper Hutt’s Old Timers’ Day.
Wellington and Poneke both conceded half-centuries seven days ago but will relish a crack at each other. Poneke have outscored the Axeman 30 tries to 13, but both sides have genuine strength in the loose and a long history (since 1973) competing for the Spud Lindsay Memorial Trophy. Spud was a leading coach and stalwart of both clubs.
It's also a big weekend ahead for the other club rugby grades in action, including the U85kg grade before next week's semi-finals.
Northern United (47) continue to set a cracking pace in the Premier Reserve Harper Lock Shield. Unbeaten at the top of the standings, Norths meet mid-table Ories (32) in the early game at the Polo Ground.
Ories are one of several teams in the mix to make the top for the Ed Chaney Cup playoffs. MSP (42) are second and will go a long way towards booking one of those spots if they beat Paremata-Plimmerton (16) at Evans Bay Park.
Below Norths and MSP, just four points separates the next six teams. Four of those are in head-to-head matches tomorrow with Petone (35) hosting Tawa (34) at the Petone Rec while across the river HOBM (34) and OBU (31) clash. Along with Ories, Poneke (34) are the other team in that group and they’re also at Petone to meet the Villagers Brotherhood (8). The remaining fixtures are between bottom six sides with Avalon (13) hosting Johnsonville (19) at Fraser Park, and Stokes Valley (13) playing their last home game of the round-robin when Wainuiomata (8) visit Delaney Park.
Including the catch-up round from 15 August, there are three rounds left to play in the Colts Paris Memorial Trophy round-robin competition, before the championship rounds semi-finals and finals.
OBU Green (38) have an 11-point buffer at the top of the standings to the chasing pack headed by Petone (27), who are one of four teams bunched together and circling the other three semi-final spots.
OBU Green have a bye this weekend, with the Wellington Axemen withdrawing from the competition, while Petone plays Norths Blue (26) at Porirua Park at 1.00pm in a tussle between second and third, while fourth placed HOBM Green (26) play OBU Black (19) in town at 1.00pm. The Upper Hutt Rams (14) play Johnsonville (6) at Maoribank Park at 12.30pm.
In a Friday night game tonight, Norths White (26) are at home to Tawa (21), while Poneke (11) has the scheduled bye in the Colts grade.
This weekend's U85kg grade round is the same draw as that two weeks ago that was postponed, and it's the final round before the semi-finals next weekend when the top four will play for the Paul Potiki Shield and the bottom four for the Tony O'Brien silverware.
The Upper Hutt Rams (34) have already qualified top with a round to spare, but their opponent tonight Avalon Wolves (24) has everything to play for on the Fraser Park Artificial.
Eastbourne (23), Wellington (22) and the OBU Scallywags (20) are all ready to leapfrog Avalon should they lose. Eastbourne play Poneke (11) at HW Shortt Park tomorrow and will secure the second home semi-final berth should they prevail, and the Rams beat the Wolves. Should Avalon beat the Rams, then the Wellington and the Scallywags match at Hataitai Park becomes a 'virtual' quarter-final for the last Top 4 spot. MSP (15) and HOBM (6) meet in the other match at the Evans Bay Park Artificial, while Wests have the bye.
The Reserve Grade is a straight round-robin for the Mike Copeland Cup and has four weeks to run. This weekend's matches see joint leaders the Upper Hutt Rams J8s and Oriental-Rongotai (both on 43 points) meet in a clash of the unbeaten sides at Maidstone Park 2 at 1.00pm.
Another big Reserve Grade match tomorrow is between the third placed Paremata-Plimmerton Punters (36) and fifth placed UH Thirsty Rams (32) at Trentham Memorial Park at 2.45pm. Fourth placed Poneke Ruffnuts (34) meet the MSP Internationals (17) on Kilbirnie Park 1 at 2.45pm in another key game.