Both Citizens Shield semifinals ended with the higher-ranked team winning, but neither victor could breathe easily until the final whistle.
Old Boys and Valley are deserved finalists, but we’d be saying exactly the same thing had Excelsior and Kurow made it to the big show.
One semifinal was a bit of a grind, the other an explosion of open backline play and dazzling tries.
Kurow made an emphatic early statement in the Whitestone Contracting Stadium semifinal as the country club leaped to a 17-0 lead.
It was a fabulous display of energy and enterprise from Kurow, whose fans were in a state of great joy in the stands.
But you just can’t keep Old Boys down, and even when Kurow led 24-7 after 35 minutes, there was never a sense the game was over.
As Old Boys tend to do, they scored in bunches to take control. There were two tries in two minutes before the break, and three in 14 minutes in the second half to give Old Boys a 40-27 lead with 10 minutes to play.
Kurow would not give up without a fight, and a Michael Paterson try with four minutes left gave them a sniff, but a late Old Boys penalty settled the day, 43-34.
At Weston, two extremely well-matched and combative forward packs slogged it out on a soft ground.
As expected, there was plenty of 10-man rugby and the result was an old-fashioned bunfight – and that’s not a bad thing.
Valley got the jump with a 10-0 lead, held a 13-7 advantage at halftime, and had leads of 18-10 and 21-13.
Excelsior was always within reach, though, and a late converted try to Blues made it 21-20 to set up a tense finish.
Valley, as it has done all season, found a way to close out a narrow win, and makes the Citizens Shield final a year after failing to reach the top four.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
After 20 minutes in town, there were a dozen Kurow players lining up to receive this award.
Jason Angland and Johnny Masters were full of beans out wide, Tyler Burgess showed his intelligence and patience, Tom Larkin and Harvard Fale worked tirelessly in the second row, and dynamic young prop Petelo Pouhila chose his moments to wreak his devastation.
For Old Boys, Lofa Taukei was all muscle and pump in midfield, Sefo Ma’ake quietly assumed control of the game, Filipo Veamatahau was a whirlwind in the loose, and Ralph Darling barrelled his way around.
It was largely about the forwards at Weston.
Jake Greenslade, Sam Sturgess and Cedric Laurent hoed into everything for Valley, while Thomas Shields led the Excelsior pack with vigour and purpose.
Both Valley and Kurow had a weekend off to prepare for the Burns Shield final.
The stage is set for a close, competitive curtain-raiser. Valley, chasing a third straight win in the grade, won two of the three clashes between the teams this season.