Thinking about tipping the winners of the Citizens Shield semifinals this weekend? Good luck with that. Hayden Meikle looks ahead to two intriguing clashes.
OLD BOYS v VALLEY
Previous games: Old Boys 47-17, Old Boys 29-14, Valley 48-36.
It’s a rematch of the 2017 final, but while Old Boys were warm favourites going into that game, this one might be a bit tougher to call.
Both, surprisingly, have almost limped into the semifinals.
Defending champions Old Boys breezed through the first 10 rounds unbeaten but then lost three of their next four.
Valley started the season slowly then peeled off six straight wins before slumping to two losses and a draw.
So, if the form guide is not much help, let’s go to the tale of the tape.
Old Boys arguably hold their destiny in their own hands. If they play well, they win – there is still so much talent and game-breaking ability in this team.
Ralph Darling, Filipo Veamatahau and Anthony Amato are hard to stop if they are given space, and Soni Tongotongo is finishing the season strongly at the back of the scrum.
Equally key is the influence of the irrepressible Inoke Naufahu at halfback, who has been excellent all season.
Valley will lean on its magnificent pack if it is to return to the final.
A lot may depend on the availability of outstanding hooker/flanker Sam Sturgess, while Cedric Laurent, Cameron Rowland and developing prop Logan Dunlop will produce their usual under-rated efforts to back up stars Meli Kolinisau and Jake Greenslade.
Valley’s backline has not exactly fired this season, and first five Dan Lewis and centre Matt Vocea might need to be at their very best.
“It’s been a tough few weeks, but it’s the semifinals so we’re buzzing. We know Valley will be a tough task. They play a unique style and they play for each other, so we will have to be at our best for the full 80.” – Ralph Darling (Old Boys)
“It’s going to be quite a challenge. We probably haven’t been at our best the last couple of weeks. But we’re looking forward to it. I think any of the four teams in the semifinals could go all the way, depending on who turns up on the day.” – Mike Mavor (Valley)
KUROW v MAHENO
Previous games: Kurow 24-23; Maheno 42-41; Maheno 47-13.
Take Saturday’s relatively pointless game out of the equation, and you appreciate how these two proud country clubs are extremely well matched.
Both have a solid base of talent rather than just a handful of rock stars, and both lean on structure and commitment to get the job done.
Maheno has the form – six straight wins leading into the semifinals – but Kurow has home advantage and potentially superior players in a couple of key positions.
The trump cards for Kurow could be its powerhouse Pasifika men in the forward pack. If he’s in the mood, prop Petelo Pouhila can blast holes in any defence, and he will be eager to add to his haul of 20 tries, while lock Harvard Fale loves to stretch those long legs.
Tyler Burgess, Jason Angland and Jesse Porter are quality backs, and Kurow will go a long way if Ben Nowell gets time to show his class.
Maheno has its own talisman – a mighty captain and No8 in Hayden Tisdall – and reliable lieutenants like Marcus Balchin, Robbie Smith and Lachie Kingan.
The 2016 champion has also benefited from the late-season recruitment of Levi Emery and Llew Johnson, two young backs with the ability to make things happen.
“It will be a big weekend. We’re feeling pretty good. We are where we want to be and we got where we needed to be. We’ve just got to go and do our job and play the way we want to play.” – Nick Anderson (Kurow)
“We’ve worked towards getting here, and it’s important to build into the semifinals. It’s time to get excited, because this is why you play. It’s going to take a massive effort but I guess we’ll find out what we’re made of.” – Chris Jennings (Maheno)