On the burst . . . Old Boys flanker Unga Kefu tries to breach the Valley defence during the Citizens Shield game at Weston on Saturday. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

Citizens Shield rugby returned with a couple of relative tonkings and a bit of a thriller at the main ground.

The most significant early statement was at Kurow, where the home team exploded for a 53-0 thumping of Excelsior.

With Ben Nowell back pulling the strings, and a deep squad playing accurate and efficient rugby, Kurow ran in seven tries to zip.

The quality of opposition – Excelsior is battling right now – always needs to be a factor in judging a performance, but there is no doubt Kurow is a team on the rise.

In Oamaru, Maheno led early then had to come from behind to snatch a 38-37 win over a plucky Athletic Marist side.

Athies had been tipped to struggle but they gave it their all, and Maheno had to grab a try in the dying minutes to seal the narrowest of wins.

Some help, boys . . . Maheno captain Hayden Tisdall looks for the offload in the tackle of Athletic Marist halfback Mason Kinzett at Whitestone Contracting Stadium. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

Old Boys began the defence of their title with a solid but not spectacular 47-17 win over Valley at Weston.

As always, Old Boys were lethal from broken play, scoring some nice tries, but they never really hit top gear, which might be worrying for the other five Citizens Shield teams.

The defending champions also struck familiar disciplinary trouble, losing three men to yellow cards in the second half.

Valley held its own for large periods despite being physically out-matched, and will be a much better team at full strength.

Speaking of being at full strength, it has never been more apparent that club rugby in March is a vastly different beast from club rugby in June.

The likes of Excelsior and Valley, especially, should be unrecognisable in a couple of months.

Blues had just 18 players stripped on Saturday – and the coach had never even met five of them.

Valley, missing a handful of players who were attending a wedding, not to mention star import Dan Lewis, had an assortment of ring-ins, veterans and youngsters filling the gaps.

We really need to wait till the seventh or eighth week of the season before making a full assessment of where our six clubs are heading.

Mind the gap . . . Kurow winger Sam Fleming glides past Excelsior defenders Hamish Slater (left) and Antonio Misiloi at Kurow. PHOTO: FORBES MEEHAN

Plenty to choose from at Kurow, where Cam Bennett inspired the forward pack, and the Nowell-Tyler Burgess show lit up the backs.

Young prop Kelepi Funaki had a whale of a game for Old Boys, and Unga Kefu was all over the field in the first half.

In a beaten Valley side, No 8 Sam Sturgess showed his class and strength, scoring two late tries.

Ross Lewis shone at fullback for Athletic Marist, while the ever-reliable Hayden Tisdall and Lachie Kingan stepped up at key moments for Maheno.

“I’m quite happy. We’ve got a lot to work on but we did some good stuff. Some of our individuals did the job. We’re lucky to have some of those boys with X-factor.” – Lemi Masoe (Old Boys)

All set to start on April 6.

Optimistically, the competition draw features five teams. Let’s see how long that lasts, but it would be nice to keep it there all season.

A feature of the grade is the presence of a Union team. We’ll tell that story in a future Oamaru Mail

All over the show because of Easter, as usual.

Kurow will be eager to build some momentum when it hosts Valley on Thursday night, and Athletic Marist and Old Boys clash at Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday.

Maheno will try out its fancy new lights when it hosts Excelsior on Wednesday night.Running SneakersNike