The points table suggests this weekend’s Citizens Shield semifinals will be one-way traffic. But you don’t play rugby games on paper. Hayden Meiklelooks ahead to two intriguing clashes.
Old Boys v Kurow
Previous games: Old Boys 31-6, Old Boys 48-32, Old Boys 33-22.
One team has 14 wins from 15 games. The other has five wins from 15 games. What do they call that in card terms? A lay-down misere?
It is certainly tempting to predict this will simply be too big a mountain for Kurow to climb, that Old Boys have far too much firepower, that all eyes will be on Weston because this semifinal can have only one outcome.
But that would be a dangerous prediction.
Old Boys, while still clearly the class acts of the competition, have not been crushing teams like they used to, and Kurow might have narrowly sneaked into the playoffs but it has won four of its past six games, and the men from up country do not fear anyone.
A key question for Old Boys will be what sort of team it can field. If Maene Mapusaga gets immigration clearance, and Unga Kefu is passed fit, a near-full strength team can run out.
Filipo Veamatahau and Manulua Taiti are the danger men in the loose, while classy inside backs Sefo Ma’ake and Inoke Naufahu can direct play.
Kurow had a poor start to the season, leaving many wondering if the departure of rock stars Ben Nowell and Rob Verbakel would prove fatal to the club’s title hopes.
But new stars like young prop Petelo Pouhila and kicking machine Tyler Burgess have emerged, and you get the feeling Kurow has as much chance as anyone of winning the Citizens Shield.
Ralph Darling (Old Boys):”It will be a tough game. Semifinals are the hardest games to win so we will have to be prepared for a red wall.”
Kevin Malcolm (Kurow):”Everyone is very excited, and relishing the opportunity to test ourselves against the best. Old Boys have clearly been the best team throughout the competition, but we’re not panicking.”
Valley v Excelsior
Previous games: Excelsior 39-32, Valley 27-24, Valley 15-12.
Look at those numbers. Yes, if you combine the scores of the three games between these teams this season, Excelsior holds a measly one-point advantage.
The stage is set for a titanic clash at Weston.
Valley has had a wonderful season – it was the only club to beat Old Boys, and has more or less been settled in the No2 position for two months – and has a strong, settled team.
These may be the two strongest forward packs in the competition but Valley arguably has the trump card in star English first five Dan Lewis, who has had a massive influence since arriving in the second round.
Excelsior has been crippled by season-ending injuries to no fewer than three starting backs: Kayne Middleton, Chris Talanoa and Hamish Slater.
Lesser sides would have crumbled, but Blues have sailed into the semifinals on the back of powerful men like Thomas Shields, Joe Pickett, Tom MacDonald and Mat Duff.
A nice angle to the game is that these two teams missed the top four last year, so one is going to complete a spectacular comeback by making the final.
Mike Mavor (Valley): “Looking back at our last six weeks, I think the biggest margin in any of our games has been four points. We would expect to be in the game, and to have an opportunity to win it, but there are no givens this season. The teams are all pretty close.”
Dan Keno (Excelsior): “We’re definitely nervous. In saying that, the competition over the last three rounds has shown that the game is there for whoever turns up on the day. We’re excited but under no illusions about how hard it’s going to be.”