This had a bit of everything – and might just have answered a few questions.
Town v Country is partly about bragging rights, and Town claimed those at Weston last Saturday despite a thrilling fightback from Country, but mainly it is about seeing who wants to press their claims for selection in the Heartland Championship.
And with the eagle eyes of North Otago coaches Nigel Walsh and Jason Forrest upon them, a few players wasted no time putting their hands up.
Top of the class was Anthony Amato, the new Old Boys lock who has been carving up in club rugby and showed in the Queen’s Birthday clash he is more than ready to play at the next level.
Amato is the total package – size, speed and ball skills – and he tore Country to shreds either side of halftime, running through and around would-be tacklers to score a hat trick of tries.
Alongside him in the Town pack, Athletic Marist flankers Jared Whitburn and Junior Fakatoufifita threw themselves into the physical exchanges, while Old Boys lock Sale Pi’i – the enigma who plays wing and lock – showed he can still be a threat.
In the backs, there were promising signs from Town’s English centre, Frank Kelly, the new Excelsior import and brother of former North Otago lock John Kelly.
Frank Kelly sticks out for his shock of snowy hair but he also looks like a rangy, long-armed centre who could come into the midfield mix for the Old Golds.
Predictably, Town halfback Inoke Naufahu looked the goods, clearing the ball well and racing around the park, and he looks set to play a key role for North Otago in the likely absence of Robbie Smith.
On the other side of the field, a depleted Country side struggled to get into the game for the first 50 minutes, but it set up a grandstand finish with three tries in the final quarter.
Valley hooker Sam Sturgess and Kurow lock Harvard Fale were the catalysts for the comeback, while prop Petelo Pouhila and the hard-working loose trio of the two Camerons, Bennett and Rowland, and No 8 Jake Greenslade shouldered their share of the workload.
Centre Matthew Vocea went looking for work, and Kurow backs Tyler Burgess and Sam Fleming showed some lovely touches.
When you consider players of the calibre of Filipo Veamatahau, Ralph Darling, Lemi Masoe, Isaac Shields, Mika Mafi, Mat Duff, Dan Lewis and Sam Tatupu were absent on Saturday, it suggests there is some reasonable talent in the district.
All in all, plenty for the coaches to digest ahead of the Heartland campaign.
“Town got off to a pretty good start but the Country boys held in there,” Walsh said.
“There was a never-give-up attitude there. They got back into it and showed plenty of fight, and that’s what we’re after.
“Some guys there, we were really watching closely, and they showed us what they are capable of, so that’s very positive for us.
“There were a few simple mistakes that shouldn’t be there, and some of the ball-handling let them down. But it was a fast game. And these are teams that have only had one practice together, so overall I’m pretty happy.”
Walsh credited Amato for an “exceptional” performance.
“He does a lot of hard work in the tight and then shows up in the corner to make a try-saving tackle.
“His workrate and skillset are huge. So he’s a guy who has really put his hand up.”
Walsh also liked what he saw from Fakatoufifita, on defence and attack, while he thought Kelly and Taina Tamou showed promise as a midfield back combination.
The North Otago coaches will continue to hold open trainings on Wednesday nights, concentrating on fitness for another couple of weeks before moving into skill-based sessions.
An Old Golds squad will be named after the Citizens Shield final, and pre-season games against Southland and Otago Country will be chances to tune up before the Heartland Championship opener against Buller on August 25.
Town v Country
Town 31 (Anthony Amato 3, Frank Kelly, Inoke Naufahu tries; Naufahu 2 con, Antonio Misiloi con), Country 24 (Glen Robertson, Petelo Pouhila, Harvard Fale, Jake Greenslade tries; Tyler Burgess 2 con). Halftime: Town 19-5