North Otago expects challenging match

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North Otago faces a stern test tomorrow when 2018 Meads Cup champion Thames Valley comes to town.

The game will be North Otago’s first at Whitestone Contracting Stadium of the 2019 Heartland Championship.

The Swamp Foxes pushed Otago during a Ranfurly Shield challenge earlier this year and sit fourth in the competition standings.

If North Otago can win tomorrow, it will be in the box seat for Meads Cup contention, but a loss would stifle its momentum.

“There are no easy-beats in this competition; every game is going to be difficult,” North Otago coach Jason Forrest said.

“We are looking forward to being at home, and hopefully we get a good crowd to get out and watch some good footy.”

Last Saturday, the Old Golds made it three wins from as many games after a come-from-behind 34-30 win over Poverty Bay in Gisborne.

For 70-odd minutes they trailed on the scoreboard, but a late try to replacement prop Ralph Darling sealed the victory.

Forrest said the team had been focused on starting the same way it had finished its game against Wairarapa Bush.

That did not eventuate though, and Poverty Bay got out to a 10-0 lead, which it extended to 24-14 at halftime.

After a Clement Gasca try and Robbie Smith penalty, the scores were tied 27-27 with 15 minutes to play. Darling’s heroics and Smith’s conversion secured the win.

But North Otago went about things the hard way, Forrest said.

“For 60 minutes we just did not play to our structure and there wasn’t too much flow from our side of things.

“But we grafted away and we always knew there was much more in the tank for us.

“At the end of the day, those are the games we would lose in the past – that is the difference between this group and previous groups.”

Darling made a big impact, while outside backs Adam Johnson and Patrick Pati always looked dangerous with ball in hand.

Lock William Kirkwood got through a power of work and was good in the lineouts.

Competition front-runner West Coast won its game against Mid Canterbury 43-41 to secure its place at the top of the table. North Otago remains in second.

North Otago team to play Thames Valley (provisional)

Ralph Darling, Sam Sturgess, Meli Kolinisau, Charles Elton, William Kirkwood, Jacob Coghlan, Marcus Balchin, Josh Clark, Robbie Smith, Lachlan Kingan, Adam Johnson, Sam Tatupu, Lemi Masoe, Howard Packman, Patrick Pati. (Reserves) Hayden Tisdall, Kelepi Funaki, Josh Hayward, Manulua Taiti, Anthony Arty, Clement Gasca, Taina Tamou.