Under 85kg finals key focus in tomorrow’s rugby

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There were nine finals winners last Saturday and tomorrow there will be two more crowned with the Division 1 and Division 2 U85kg grade deciders.

The two finals are at Fraser Park and Hataitai Park, with the Avalon Wolves hosting Paraparaumu in the Division 1 Paul Potiki Shield final and the Wellington Axemen hosting Eastbourne in the Division 2 Tony O’Brien Shield decider. Both finals kick-off at 2.30pm.

Top qualifiers Avalon return to the scene of their agonising defeat to the Upper Hutt Rams in last year’s finale, that saw scores locked up after 80 minutes and the Rams grabbing the win in extra time.

Avalon went on to win this year’s first round JC Bowl, with eight wins from eight, which was based on miserly defence and team camaraderie.

Coach Arthur Flux, who captained the Wolves in last year’s final, gave his thoughts ahead of tomorrow’s final. “The Wolves are every bit the personification of a wolfpack. Our eldest player is 43 and our youngest 17. Within this broad span is a culture thriving in care and protection. We teach the new players to contribute their skillset as part of the game plan. Specific roles that can be performed, mastered and then ultimately replace the retiring players guiding them. From this we have a camaraderie few teams can match.”

“We have had a season full of extreme hardship off the field and it has not only galvanised our rugby family but more importantly put the game we love in perspective. Rugby isn’t just a game to us; it’s our church, our religion, and our way of life.”

Avalon beat Johnsonville 22-3 in last weekend’s semi-final. Paraparaumu came through as fourth placed qualifiers and edged the Rams 15-14 at the death.

Paraparaumu’s Brady Murland on his team: “We have been in the rebuilding stages since 2014 when we made the Paul Potiki semis but lost to the MSP Blues, and then a lot of senior players decided to stop playing and moved away by the following season.”

“The last two seasons we’ve finished fifth which has been a bit annoying, so we were stoked when we slipped into fourth off the back of an 83rd minute try to win against HOBM, then to win our semi a week later against Upper Hutt on full-time with a penalty. It has given the boys a lot of belief and confidence.”

It was 19-13 when these two teams last met at the end of June, Three weeks prior to that, Avalon won 13-10, so it goes without saying this final will be tight.

The Paul Potiki Shield was presented by the Poneke club in 1996 in the then new 85kg Restricted grade. Ories stalwart Tony O'Brien (whom the Division 2 is named after) was responsible for establishing the grade, with the aim to "to bring enjoyment back into rugby for the skinny, smaller bloke." Paul Potiki was a Poneke stalwart, a former member of the 22nd Infantry Battalion in WW2, taxi driver and a well-known Wellington identity.

The Division 2 final sees the Axemen defending their title after they edged Johnsonville in extra-time last year.

The two sides have split their meetings this year with both having won on home turf. Wellington beat the OBU Scallywags 22-15 in their semi-final, with Eastbourne accounting for MSP 34-14. Kick-off is also at 2.30pm

The only club grade still in competition mode is the two divisions of the Reserve Grade. The Division 1 John Davies Cup enters its final round with the Johnsonville Cripples and Poneke Ruffnuts assured they’ll be in next week semi-finals with Tawa (who play the Ruffnuts) and the Petone Brotherhood (who play Stokes Valley) each needing wins to join them, while it’s a nervous wait for the Upper Hutt Pirates who have the bye.

In the nine-team Division 2 Alan Seerup Cup they still have two more weeks before they hit playoffs, meaning they won’t play their final until the end of the month. The Upper Hutt J8’s and Paremata-Plimmerton Punters have a large gap on the rest of the pack with six of the seven remaining teams all well in contention for the remaining two places and only the Wests Mixed Veges are playing out the season.

There is also a full round of President’s Grade fixtures scheduled, ahead of President’s Day next weekend at Ngati Toa Domain.