Four young men, one big dream.
The co-captains in today’s big First XV clash between Waitaki Boys’ High School and St Kevin’s College plan to explore the depths of their resolve, talent and coolness under pressure on one of the biggest days of their young lives.
They will chase an oval ball in the hopes of securing a trophy shaped like an oval ball, the Leo O’Malley Memorial Trophy, affectionately known as the Peanut.
After 70 minutes, they will either sink into the arms of their joyous schoolmates, content in the knowledge they hold Oamaru bragging rights for another year and a sweet memory for a lifetime, or they will take a knee, and try not to watch the celebrations on the other side.
It is one of those great years when there is not really a clear favourite for the Blood Match.
Waitaki Boys’ has had the better season – it looks the strongest challenger to mighty Otago Boys’ High School in the premier schools competition – but St Kevin’s won the first-round clash between the schools.
That loss at Murrayfield stung Waitaki on the day, but co-captain and wiry flanker Lochie Templeton said the men in black had not dwelled on that disappointment.
“We’ve just had to move on from it and keep going forward,” Templeton said.
“We’re feeling pretty good, and we’re really pumped for the game.”
Fellow Waitaki leader Bryden Skinner, the pacy midfield back, is preparing for his third Blood Match, so knows all about the pressure and excitement of the game.
“The big thing is you just don’t go out there and take anything for granted, and you never take St Kevin’s lightly,” Skinner said.
“You need to have the right attitude. It means a lot to the school. It’s a great rivalry, and it’s always good to try to get that edge on them.”
Also preparing for his third appearance in the game is St Kevin’s co-captain and lock Tama Wooldridge, who is relishing an opportunity to get his hands on the “Nut” for the first time.
“It’s an honour to be able to play in such an important game. It’s an awesome day,” Wooldridge said.
“There’s a lot of history behind it, and it’s great to represent your school on a day like this.”
Wooldridge, already on a high after being invited to the New Zealand Maori under-18 camp, knows what he wants to see from his team.
“We need to stick to our structures, play the footy we like to play, and not get caught up in the heat of the moment.”
Fellow St Kevin’s leader Eli Winders said the win over Waitaki three weeks ago was good for the self-belief of the Redcastle men.
“It just shows us that we know we are a good team and we know we can do it,” Winders said.
“We’re tracking well, and we’re really looking forward to the game. We love a good challenge.”
Waitaki is seeking its third consecutive Blood Match win, following a St Kevin’s threepeat from 2013-15.
A highlight should be the battle up front, where both teams field a physical pack.
Waitaki potentially has the more potent backline, built around Skinner and the dangerous Bayley Sullivan, but St Kevin’s has a wonderful inside back combination (Ramesh Khatri and Ben McCarthy – though the latter may start at fullback) that could dictate proceedings.
Waitaki warmed up for the game with a 21-12 win over Mt Aspiring College in Wanaka, while St Kevin’s was beaten 43-38 by South Otago High School in Balclutha.
Waitaki Boys’ v St Kevin’s
Whitestone Contracting Stadium, today, 1.30pm
Waitaki Boys’ (likely): Ryley MacColl, George Parker, Bryden Skinner, Bayley Sullivan, Joseph Siale, Mason James, Ikenasio Taefu, Sione Kaufusi, Jacob Pledger, Drae Hirama, Blake Welsh, Jack Willans, Jake Davies, Siketi Tevao, Tonga Malafu. Reserves: Cullen Johnstone, Will Knight, Tevita Katoa, Lochie Templeton, Glen McClea, Isaia Fariu, Kadin Turner.
St Kevin’s (likely): Ben McCarthy, Cameron Dodd, Jerome Misiloi, Fem Bootsan, Frano Flannery, Marc Boardman, Ramesh Khatri, Taine Lanauze, Paea Fifita, Eli Winders, Tama Wooldridge, Quinn Hargreaves, Dylan Garaway, Dan Ruddle, Tupou Fifita. Reserves: Jordan Kennedy, Xavier Kahukura-Davis, Logan Docherty, Brendan Tiffen, Bailey Howell, Seth Humphries, Josh Eckhold.