North Otago’s Heartland campaign culminated in a frustrating 14-12 loss to Wangangui at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium last Saturday following a season that produced as many losses as wins.
The Old Golds season began with a 17-9 loss to Buller in Westport, who went on to record a 100 per cent record in round-robin fixtures with notable wins over Mid Canterbury (29-19) and South Canterbury (19-10).
In week two, North Otago welcomed Poverty Bay to Oamaru with the hope of kick-starting their season, but a lethargic first half display led to the visitors holding a 17 point lead at the interval.
Mike Mullins’ side rallied in the second half to post a 43-34 victory, but the scoreline did not truly reflect the unconvincing performance.
North Otago then fell to two consecutive losses against Wanganui (20-15) and King Country (17-14) before downing Thames Valley and South Canterbury 19-15 and 22-19 respectively.
The penultimate round saw Mid Canterbury hand North Otago a 28-7 loss to leave hopes of a Lochore Cup semi-final place in the hands of others.
Luckily for North Otago, a win-less East Coast offered little competition with a 45-5 scoreline while other results fell in the Old Golds’ favour.
North Otago produced a solid performance in their semi-final showdown against South Canterbury for a 16-12 win before the disappointing final.
Supporters Club member Chris Rawson believes the team should have produced better performances with the ability within the squad and lacked consistency throughout the campaign.
“The team on paper should have preformed better than it did,” he said.
“Sometimes they didn’t gel, it’s like they’ve got an A-game and a B-game, especially when they went up to Mid Canterbury, they didn’t even get off the bus but then beat South Canterbury, they are old foes and they played brilliant rugby, they’re just not consistent.”
North Otago coach Mike Mullins cited injury woes as a catalyst for the inconsistent displays.
“The season didn’t go as well as I expected,” he said.
“Consistency of performance was in a way hampered by injuries, in total we had 41 players play for North Otago this season.”
Rawson questioned whether the timing and nature of the Pacific Islands tour may have affected the team’s performances.
“Sometimes they clicked and other times they didn’t,” he said.
“I think some of it’s got to go right to the start, they had an overseas tour but some of the top guys didn’t go on that.”
“It’s good for development of rugby but I don’t know if that’s how you warm up a team because three or four crucial guys hadn’t gone on the tour, if they’re going to do the development thing, then perhaps at the end of the season.”
Rawson reflected on the disappointing final loss to Wanganui but vowed to be back donning the gold next year.
“I think they were in it in the first half and in the second half they didn’t play for positional territory, I think the better team won on the day,” he said.
“I’ve seen North Otago get thrashed consistently right through, it was a disappointing season but it’s better than what they used to do 15, 20 years ago, we’ll be back next year.”
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: FILE – North Otago recorded a 43-34 victory over Poverty Bay in week two of the Heartland season. Pictured is Solomon T-Pole in action.