Excelsior will take on Athletic Marist in the first semi-final of the day at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium before Old Boys look to secure a place in the final in a first against fourth place showdown with Valley tomorrow.
Old Boys churned through Excelsior 42-10 last weekend while Athies knocked over a plucky Kurow 22-9. Valley toppled Maheno 28-7, leaving Blues as the only side heading to the semi-finals on the back of a loss, but Jason Forrest’s side can take some solace in their second half performance last Saturday.
The holders got off to a fine start against a lethargic Excelsior, taking a 35-3 lead in to the break, before Blues produced a more convincing performance to keep it at 7-7 in the second half.
With both sides’ semi-final places set in stone and a healthy amount of replacements available, Forrest had a rare opportunity to rest influential forwards Matt Duff and Don Lolo, but injuries to key players Chris Talanoa, Kane Middleton and Thomas Shields may still prove costly. The players’ fitness was still to be confirmed when the Oamaru Mail went to print.
Athies backs coach Jon Sinclair said he was expecting a tough encounter with Excelsior, who had downed the second place side once already this season.
“It’ll be very, very difficult. Their first five is a very tactical kicker and their scrum has been dominant over ours in the past but we’ll have our first choice front row. They play a lot of territory but it’s about us getting our structures right,” he said.
With 12 players unavailable for round 15 selection, options have increased, with some key personnel returning for Athies.
“All the guys we were missing are available,” said Sinclair.
“We had 25 at training on Tuesday and we still had four or five guys out of town who are back tonight (Thursday night) so it’ll be hard to pick a team.”
Old Boys’ relentless quest for a fourth successive title is on track, having finished 12 points clear at the points table’s summit with 13 wins, one loss and a draw. They will be resounding favourites against Valley, who have won seven and lost eight so far, but Old Boys’ manager Warren Bloxsom said he is expecting a difficult clash.
“Valley are always tough when it comes to finals time,” he said.
“We’ve beaten them three times this year. One of those was in the mud, but there’s only been a couple a few points in it.”
Saturday’s Oamaru Liquorland Citizens Shield semi-final fixtures:
Excelsior vs Athletic Marist, Whitestone Contacting Stadium, 1pm.
Old Boys vs Valley, Whitestone Contracting Stadium, 3pm.
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: JAMES FORD – Old Boys will take on Valley tomorrow after Excelsior face Athletic Marist at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium.