The Citizens Shield is back in Old Boys’ hands, and club rugby is done for another season. HaydenMeikle looks back on a year that featured plenty of highlights.
If 2016 was the year of the Maheno miracle, 2017 was the season of the sizzling semifinal race.
No disrespect to Saturday’s final – it was a ripper, and both Old Boys and Valley played their part in a heck of a clash – but the lasting memory of this year will be the epic, prolonged battle between four clubs to claim the two final semifinal spots.
Old Boys and Valley had locked up the No 1 and No 2 positions respectively by the end of the second round, but the quest to fill the other two playoff places took the remaining four clubs on a fantastic five-week journey.
In the end, just one point separated third from sixth, and it was almost cruel to refer to a club being left with the wooden spoon.
It was a season in which Old Boys regained their status as the kings of North Otago rugby; Valley continued its marvellous improvement; Kurow again showed signs it was on the verge of something special; and Excelsior built a thunderous forward pack that was cruelly robbed of a complementary backline by multiple injuries.
Maheno was unlucky to miss out on the semifinals a year after its wonderful success, and Athletic Marist might have under-achieved but it could easily have finished in the top three had the ball bounced differently.
It was a good season of club rugby – and here are my awards.
PLAYERS OF THE SEASON
As I did last year, I can go straight to the Oamaru Mail weekly player ratings to make this a relatively scientific exercise.
Two blockbusting loose forwards – Junior Fakatoufifita (Athletic Marist) and Filipo Veamatahau (Old Boys) – finished tied on eight points, and it is hard to quibble with either. Fakatoufifita was a revelation in his first season, while Veamatahau is still young but has already achieved so much.
Athletic utility Connor Newlands and Old Boys halfback Sefo Ma’ake each earned seven points, and Athletic lock Jared Whitburn, Excelsior prop Thomas Shields, Kurow forwards Petelo Pouhila and Harvard Fale, Maheno captain Hayden Tisdall, Valley first five Dan Lewis and the Old Boys pairing of Maene Mapusaga and Siosiua Ngalo all had six points.
Last year’s winner, Inoke Naufahu, had 12 points, suggesting the spread of talent was more even this season, though we did not award points for the semifinals or final this time.
Jake Greenslade started to deliver on that rich potential for Valley, and Tyler Burgess proved to be a spectacular replacement for Ben Nowell in Kurow’s No 10 jersey.
Pouhila exploded on to the scene for Kurow, and there should be plenty more to come from the young prop, Antonio Misiloi looked a real find for Excelsior, and more will be heard of Maheno lock Shayle Baldwin.
I know every premier rugby player in the district has been keenly awaiting the naming of this prestigious team.
The Oamaru Mail editor is the sole selector, so aim all criticisms and comments at him if you disagree.
Brad McKenzie (V), Connor Newlands (AM), Siosiua Ngalo (OB), Maene Mapusaga (OB), Matthew Vocea (V), Dan Lewis (V), Sefo Ma’ake (OB), Junior Fakatoufifita (AM), Manulua Taiti (OB), Filipo Veamatahau (OB), Harvard Fale (K), Mike Lawrence (M), Petelo Pouhila (K), Timoci Bulitavu (AM), Thomas Shields (E). Reserves: Cameron Schultz (V), Ralph Darling (OB), Jared Whitburn (AM), Hayden Tisdall (M), Robbie Smith (M), Tyler Burgess (K), Antonio Misiloi (E).
QUESTIONS FOR 2018
1. Can this extremely talented group of Old Boys veterans go for a seventh title in eight years?
2. Or would an early $5 on a Valley-Kurow final be a smart wager?
3. Who will be coaching Maheno, Kurow and Excelsior next season?
4. Will Maheno’s ambitious lights project come to fruition and bring regular Friday night footy?