Prepare for one of the great stories – and hopefully one of the great finals – in the history of the Citizens Shield.
Whether you are a Kurow fan or a Valley fan or a neutral, tomorrow’s North Otago premier club rugby final between two proud country clubs offers the tantalising prospect of an epic game and a feelgood tale.
Kurow certainly has the whiff of destiny.
The Red Devils have been through some tough times, and at 36 years, they have the longest Citizens Shield drought of the six North Otago clubs.
Heck, it is 17 years since Kurow was even in the final, and perhaps that lack of big-game experience is the only potential weakness in a talented and balanced team.
But don’t assume it is just the club from up country that is dreaming big.
Valley, which was in a rough state just a couple of years ago, will be keen to write its own glorious chapter as it pursues a fifth title since it was formed out of a merger in the late 1980s.
Under revered club stalwart Mike Mavor, Valley has developed a spine of steel and an incomparable forward pack, and its extra-time semifinal win over Old Boys will have filled it with confidence.
While Valley has an edge in recent finals experience – it has been in seven finals since Kurow last appeared – that does not faze Kurow captain Braden Barnes.
“I think we’ve got enough experience over the whole park, so it’s not a big concern.”
Barnes (32), a dairy farmer from Duntroon by way of Manawatu, said it was nice to reach a final to reflect Kurow’s resurgence in recent years.
“It means a huge amount to the club and the community. I think we’ve helped bring a community together, and it’s just unreal for the club.
“Kurow’s been there or thereabouts but not been able to get to a final for a long time.”
Kurow has good squad depth, and while game breakers like Petelo Pouhila, Harvard Fale and Tyler Burgess get the headlines, the input of all players in an extended squad has been key to reaching the final.
Barnes is delighted the final is an all-country affair, though he grinned when he conceded Kurow would have been pleased to host the game in front of its passionate supporters.
Valley captain Cameron Rowland is eager for another shot at the title following the club’s game effort against Old Boys in last year’s final.
“They say you’ve got to lose one to win one,” Rowland said.
“We probably learned a bit from last year around taking opportunities when they come up.
“We’ll have to take every opportunity we get against Kurow. It could take 80 minutes, it could take 100 – you wouldn’t know.”
Rowland (27), a livestock representative for Silver Fern Farms, acknowledged Valley limped into the playoffs after a stuttering finish to the season, but he had no fears about the side’s ability to lift for the final.
“We’ve got people who get up for big games, and that makes a difference. We’ve built throughout the season and had some good wins.”
While Valley’s superb forward pack is a known quantity, the wildcards could be English first five Dan Lewis and centre Matthew Vocea, and whether they can fire on the big day.
In the curtain-raiser, Kurow will attempt to retain the Burns Shield when it plays Excelsior in the president’s grade final.
Kurow (likely): Sam MacDonald, Dean Fenwick, Jesse Porter, Ben Nowell, Jason Angland, Tyler Burgess, Glen Robertson, Ryan Ambler, Cameron Bennett, Fred Sutton, Braden Barnes, Harvard Fale, Petelo Pouhila, Michael Paterson, Tom Furnival.
Valley (likely): Brad Fleming, Colin McKay, Matthew Vocea, Dylan Edwards, Mark Roney, Dan Lewis, Glen Sturgess, Jake Greenslade, Cameron Rowland (captain), Sam Sturgess, Matt Cowie, Cedric Laurent, Meli Kolinisau, Scott Ruddle, Logan Dunlop.