The North Otago club rugby season concludes tomorrow afternoon, when Old Boys plays Maheno in the Citizens Shield final. Old Boys, captained by North Otago rugby stalwart Ralph Darling, is gunning for its sixth consecutive and 26th overall Citizens Shield title.
If Old Boys does the job against the green and blacks, Darling, who has captained the side since 2008, will secure his place as the most successful captain in the history of the Citizens Shield, which dates back to 1901. Old Boys has dominated the competition in recent years and nothing short of a win will satisfy the club with the proudest of histories.
However, it’s fair to say Maheno has been the story of the 2016 season. Last year, the club was on the brink of being unable to field a team and considered withdrawing from the premier grade.
It ended up finishing last, and the club’s future looked far from assured. Tomorrow, Maheno will look to
claim its first Citizens Shield title since 2001 and its 11th overall. The last time Maheno held the shield was when the local competition was part of the combined North Otago and South Canterbury competition. The final includes several players who will travel to Canada with an expanded North Otago squad of 24 who will play three games as a warm-up for this year’s Heartland Championship.
The road to the final has certainly been an interesting one, with several upsets and strong performances along the way.
Excelsior, last year’s beaten finalist, finished bottom this season in a largely forgettable campaign, while Kurow impressed many with its style of play to earn a semifinal place alongside an equally impressive Athletic Marist side. Old Boys drew with Maheno 20-20 the first time they met in 2016, before Old Boys picked up a 24-17 win a few weeks later. However, the green and blacks arguably provided the boilover of the season the last time they clashed, with a 24-20 win. Both teams will be desperate for glory and fans can expect a hard-fought encounter. North Otago Rugby Football Union chairman Warren Prescott expects the final to be a close one. “I wish both teams all the very best and I know it will be very entertaining rugby. I wouldn’t like to pick a winner. If the weather on Saturday is like anything we’ve had recently, it will be a very good game and a very close game. Maheno are a good, young side and Old Boys will be trying hard to retain their record.” All in all, he said based on this season, club rugby in North Otago was in good shape. “We’ve been very pleased with the way the season has gone … it’s proof that club rugby is in very good heart. That was proved at Maheno Domain at the semifinal last Saturday when there wasn’t a car park left at the ground.” The final kicks off at 3pm at Whitestone Contracting Stadium, while the president’s grade final between Kurow and Valley will kick off at 1pm at the same venue.