Take two. The Citizens Shield semifinals had to be postponed due to last week’s floods, but the forecast is slightly better this weekend. Hayden Meikle looks at three key match-ups in each game.
OLD BOYS V KUROW
1. Ralph Darling (OB) v 3. Petelo Pouhila (K)
The master and the apprentice. Old Boys captain and co-coach Darling seems to have been around forever but he is still only 31. He plays prop or hooker, he tackles his heart out and – like everyone in this Old Boys team – he just loves the opportunity to run with the ball and score some tries. While Darling is an established quantity, young Pouhila is a new star on the scene. The terrific Tongan is a devastating ball runner and strong scrummager who has transformed the Kurow pack.
8. Soni Tongotongo (OB) v 8. Sam Forsyth (K)
Two quite different approaches but two vastly respected loose forwards. Tongotongo has had a mixed season but is capable of tearing a defence to shreds. Forsyth does not seek the limelight but his work rate is phenomenal and his leadership will be key if Kurow is to take down Goliath.
10. Inoke Naufahu (OB) v 10. Tyler Burgess (K)
It has been a tricky 12 months for the preciously talented Naufahu, who only played a bit role in the Heartland Championship before sustaining a serious injury. But he is back on deck, and forms a lethal inside back combination with classy halfback Sefo Ma’ake. Burgess has a boot that is as good as anyone’s. He has scored 129 points this season, and included in that haul is a solitary try.
VALLEY V EXCELSIOR
3. Meli Kolinisau (V) v 1. Thomas Shields (E)
Two big, bad bruisers who will set the tone for an almighty battle up front. Kolinisau has not always been at his fighting weight this season but his scrummaging power is vital for Valley. Shields is ultra reliable, a prop out of the old school who just puts his head down and pushes. He, Joe Pickett and Anthony Kent form arguably the best front row in the competition.
7. Cameron Rowland (V) v 7. Mat Duff (E).
Nothing typifies New Zealand rugby quite like a sizzling battle between openside flankers, and these two are among the best going around. Rowland might be known as “Chicken” but he never backs down from a tussle, and he will work until every ounce of energy has been expended. Duff is more of a thoroughbred, who will pop up all over the place and make some dangerous breaks.
13. Matthew Vocea v 13. Aaron Martin
Fijian flair v English consistency. Vocea has eased his way back into top form after a patchy 2016 and is Valley’s main strike weapon in the backs. If he and star first five Dan Lewis get some ball, look out. Martin is tough and combative and part of an English contingent that has helped Blues back into the semifinals.