North Otago made some additions to the trophy cabinet in the opening week of the 2019 Heartland Championship.
The Old Golds travelled to Timaru on Saturday to play last year’s Meads Cup finalist South Canterbury, and put the competition on notice with a 26-20 win – bringing home the Hanan Shield, Phil Gard Memorial Cup and Direen Cup.
North Otago conceded an early try before hitting back with one of its own to prop Meli Kolinisau, who barged over after a well-worked lineout move.
Halfback Robbie Smith, who was flawless off the tee, banged over a penalty on the stroke of halftime to make it 10-7.
The teams traded penalties at the start of the second half, then winger Howard Packman wriggled over, giving North Otago the lead, and Smith’s boot kept the scoreboard ticking over.
North Otago’s mobile forward pack was instrumental in disrupting South Canterbury’s supply of clean possession, while the scrum was immense.
South Canterbury had some dangerous runners but was forced into errors and could not break down the resolute defence.
Smith and Taina Tamou were the best of the North Otago backs, while loan player Mike Williams provided a point of difference in the second half as he made several breaks from first receiver.
North Otago coach Jason Forrest praised his side’s “gutsy win”.
“The biggest thing we have looked at changing this year is the culture.
“If we get the off-field stuff right, the on-field will come with it.
“There has been some tough stuff put in front of them in the pre-season and they have not shied away from it.”
Tonight, North Otago takes on Wairarapa Bush at Forsyth Barr Stadium, as a curtain-raiser for Otago’s Ranfurly Shield game against Manawatu.
It will have to do so without the services of Kolinisau, Ralph Darling and Josh Clarke, who will be in Auckland to play for the New Zealand Heartland XV against Manu Samoa.
“We have been training around it and we have to back the guys coming in,” Forrest said. “We have got depth, but it gives other guys an opportunity to show what they have.”
Wairarapa Bush is coming off a good 28-18 win against perennial Heartland heavyweight Whanganui, so the game should be another good marker for where North Otago sits in the competition.
The game will be televised on Sky Sport at 5.05pm tonight.
North Otago team to play Wairarapa Bush:
Mike Mata’afa, Sam Sturgess, Kelepi Funaki, Charles Elton, William Kirkwood, Mat Duff, Jacob Coghlan, Jake Greenslade, Robbie Smith, Mike Williams, Adam Johnson, Sam Tatupu, Lemi Masoe, Howard Packman, Patrick Pati, Hayden Tisdall, Bailey Templeton, Josh Hayward, Manulua Taiti, Anthony Arty, Lachlan Kingan, Clement Gasca.