St Kevin’s College ended five years of hurt by downing Waitaki Boys’ High School 26-8 at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Friday.
With Waitaki Boys’ intent on equalling the longest winning streak since the competition’s inception in 1934, and St Kevin’s aiming to prove they had the armoury to grasp the Leo O’Malley Memorial Trophy for the first time in half a decade, the tie had all the components of a thriller.
The clash began evenly, both sides eager to make the first impression but anxious of making early errors, until Siosiua Ngalo touched down. The opening try was neatly converted by Brodie Flannery to give St Kevin’s a 7-0 lead.
Waitaki Boys’ found their rhythm in the later stages of the first half, taking advantage of a penalty before skipper Don Lolo forced his way over the line to put the holders ahead.
At times Waitaki’s large, mobile forwards seemed likely to do major damage but were unable to truly capitalise on their dominant spell, taking an 8-7 lead into the break.
If past encounters were anything to go by, the neutral spectator could be forgiven for assuming Waitaki would push on in the second period and take the game beyond reach, but this wasn’t to be.
The absorbing atmosphere surrounding this clash was as expected, with both sets of supporters awash with black, red and blue and making their feelings heard and seen throughout.
St Kevin’s went into the second half as tenaciously as they began the first, with an admirable sense of self belief, despite being physically out-matched.
Sanaila Nahuto ran straight and with power to cross the line early on, the try neatly converted by Flannery again for a 14-8 lead.
From then on St Kevin’s looked the more organised of the teams, crossing the line twice more to seal the win.
St Kevin’s coach Justin Fowler praised his players’ efforts and the community for the memorable day.
“The boys did really well, really good on-field leadership,” he said.
“We put pressure on their forward pack, I think Waitaki had a dominant spell towards the end of the first half but the guys came back and continued to put pressure on.
“They were ecstatic, it means a lot, we’re just very grateful for the support of the school and community and watching what I thought was a pleasing game of rugby.”
Waitaki Boys’ coach Shane Carter credited his team’s opponents for their strong performance and despite the defeat took positives from the explosive encounter.
“I thought our boys played above themselves for 50 minutes,” Carter said. “We fought back, but St Kevin’s played very well and very smart and I think it took its toll and we made bad decisions.
“I think the streak and St Kevin’s having some good players added spice to it.
“To take positives out of it, it’ll teach the young men to learn how to take a loss and how to deal with the emotion but the game was played in good spirits,” he said.
Despite the fierce competition this event invokes, the deep family ties within both camps always help to ensure that it is a day to remember.
St Kevin’s skipper Jacob Coghlan was the third generation of his family to play in the blood match.
“It was an awesome feeling, a great feeling” Coghlan said.
Coghlan’s father was a member of the record winning 1988 team and his grandfather a loser in the 1958 final – a testament to what this annual clash is all about and how deep this rivalry runs within the local community.
Here’s to next year.
By James Ford