The premier club rugby season is over for Maheno (fifth) and Athletic Marist (sixth), both falling short of the semifinals by a single, agonising point. Hayden Meikle looks back at where things went wrong – and right – for the two teams who missed the semifinals.
Record: Played 15, won 6, lost 9.
High point: Kurow on opening day. Maheno never really played with that much verve and dominance again.
Low point: About 4.23pm on Saturday, when a gutsy, depleted Maheno side realised the dream of defending the Citizens Shield had died.
Three best players:
Hayden Tisdall – Consistent, rugged and able to pop up anywhere around the field, the captain played his heart out.
Mike Lawrence – The big English lock added plenty of grunt to an undermanned pack.
Robbie Smith – Started the season quietly but the master halfback was fizzing by the third round.
Next year: You might feel deflated at missing out on the semifinals a year after winning the Citizens Shield, but finishing one point off the playoffs does not mean the club has collapsed. Maheno is still a reinvigorated team, and assuming men such as Tisdall, Marcus Balchin, Adam Johnson and the Smith brothers return, and youngsters like Shayle Baldwin continue to develop, green-and-black country will be a happy place for a while. The biggest question is who will replace Mark Wilson as coach. Wilson has delivered spectacular success, leading the club from the wooden spoon to a memorable title. He has indicated he is happy to stay on in a mentor-type role, but he leaves big head coaching boots to fill.
Coach’s call: “I think it was just one of those seasons. We were decimated by injury and work commitments. You just can’t compare it to last year. Last year, we fluked the injuries, but this year, it felt like we had two seasons combined. But we were one point off the top four, and if we’d got everyone fit, we could have won the title again. The Maheno club is in a hugely positive state.” – Mark Wilson.
Record: Played 15, won 5, lost 10.
High point: Following a gutsy win at Kurow in week three with a big win over Blues.
Low point: Slipping to five straight losses from week nine to week 13. None was by a huge margin but it was a slump from which Athies could not recover.
Three best players:
Junior Fakatoufifita – The newcomer of the year was consistently dangerous off the back of the scrum.
Folau Tokai – Young, strong and dynamic, the schoolboy flanker played above his years.
Connor Newlands – the most talented and versatile rugby players in the competition. Could go places, and it appears first stop is Dunedin.
Next year: Still plenty of talent and youth, and you have to think this team is too good not to be challenging for the title in the next couple of seasons. The big forward pack, especially, can match it with anyone. Losing the classy Newlands will be a huge blow, and Athies will hope Antini Brown will be back for another season as playmaker. A focus for the club has to be getting the most out of the talent at its disposal. Coach Graham Pitches has put his hand up to stay involved.
Coach’s call: “It’s a bit of a hollow feeling at the moment, but that’s the way it goes. We didn’t get away to the start that we needed at the start of the year. I think we only had one win or something in the first round. We got into a bit of a losing habit. We were a young team and maybe there was a lack of experience or maturity there at times.” – Graham Pitches.