Season performance ‘not good enough’

Over before it began . . . North Otago’s Heartland season has finished after its Lochore Cup semifinal loss last weekend. PHOTOS: KAYLA HODGE/DAVE BOYLE/SUPPLIED

North Otago Rugby has bowed out of the Heartland Championship after coming up short in the Lochore Cup semifinal. Kayla Hodge sits down with coach Jason Forrest to review the season.

That is the main way to sum up the Heartland Championship season that started with so much promise and ended with North Otago losing 31-15 to Hanan Shield rival Mid Canterbury in last weekend’s Lochore Cup semifinal.
‘‘I’m still trying to get my head around it all, to be honest,’’ coach Jason Forrest said.
The team showed glimpses of what it was capable of but then fell into bad habits and lost its structure against West Coast, Mid Canterbury and King Country.
There was plenty to still celebrate — Sam Sturgess and Manulua Taiti earned their 50th caps — but there will also be a ‘‘pretty honest review’’ in the coming weeks about the season.
‘‘From where we started, we had a really good pre-season and then to finish where we finished is just, for me, not good enough, to be honest.’’

While it was not the way North Otago wanted to end its season, there is still plenty to be proud of.
It put massive scores on Horowhenua-Kapiti and Buller at home, had two televised games and played its first match in Kurow.
Among the players, there were a group who ‘‘put their hands up’’, such as lock Epineri Logavatu, who fully committed to the season, Forrest said.
‘‘That’s probably the positives. We’re building those foundations of young guys.
‘‘Some of them didn’t get a chance at Heartland but they’re in our squad and development squad. There’s a bit of depth there hopefully moving forward.’’

The past month has been a tough pill to swallow.
The team had been on a downward spiral and it came to a head when North Otago lost 42-21 to King Country, knocking the team from Meads Cup contention to the Lochore Cup semifinals.
Forrest felt there was a lack of connection from players pulling on the representative jersey.
‘‘I don’t know if it’s a lack of pride in the jersey, but I think we sort of had a disconnection with the jersey, what it means.
‘‘It meant a lot to some players and not to others. That again is something in the review we’ll look at.
‘‘I think we probably lost the [connection] with the community as well a little bit, in regards to we probably didn’t do enough around town and that sort of thing — that’s something to really look at moving forward.’’

Hard to look past demolishing Horowhenua-Kapiti by 66 points.
The Old Golds were at their very best when they beat Horowhenua 89-23 at home. Horowhenua had been the Old Golds’ bogey team in the past but that was put to bed when the home team ran away with the game.
‘‘To put that sort of score on them was pretty good,’’ Forrest said.
‘‘That was probably the best one in front of the 2002 team — it was a pretty special weekend for those guys and for the boys to put a performance on like that was pretty good.’’
Winger Ben McCarthy was the star of the show, breaking the union’s record for most individual points in a game (29) and most conversions (12). He even landed a clutch conversion on the buzzer in an infamous video with a streaker running in front of him.
There were also solid wins against Wairarapa Bush 35-5 and Buller 71-10 in the opening two rounds.

Already been mentioned but the must-win clash against King Country was dreadful.
‘‘That was probably right up there, to be honest.
‘‘That was a quarterfinal for us. It was hard to watch,’’ Forrest said.
Nothing really went right in that game. The Old Golds trailed 17-14 at the break and then fell off in the second half to lose 42-21.
The home game against West Coast was also lacklustre and disjointed in phases — despite still coming away with the win.
‘‘We had patches against West Coast. That first 20 minutes we were phenomenal.’’

An Old Boys trifecta.
Big No 8 Junior Fakatoufifita was sublime, showing his edge off the back of the scrum and proving he was one to watch from broken play.
‘‘He was outstanding all year. Again, another player that has had some issues . . .and that in the past but not this year. Fully committed and 100% in.’’
Winger Mone Samate also starred in his debut season and reliable Tini Feke who switched between halfback and second five all year.
‘‘But just got on with it, didn’t bother him, didn’t faze him.’’
Alongside them, Manulua Taiti, who had an injuryriddled season, was as solid as ever when he was fit and loan player Seta Korotimana was strong.

Epineri Logavatu and Inoke Fisilau made the most of every opportunity this year.
The lock and fullback have been in and out of the Heartland squad the past few years and really showed why they deserved their spots this season.
Logavatu is a massive lineout target and his trademark one handed breaks and offloads were superb.
‘‘He’s still got a lot to work on, don’t get me wrong, but when he’s on, he’s on, that’s for sure,’’ Forrest said.
‘‘He was really good around the group too. He’s got quite a bit to add to his game yet and that’s exciting for him.’’
Fisilau can switch between fullback and first-five and through the latter half of the season became the starting fullback.
‘‘Inoke was very good this year too. Great attitude — he knuckled down and [did] the hard work.’’

So what’s next?
‘‘It’s all up in the air, to be honest,’’ Forrest said.
The team and union will undertake a review in the next few weeks, including the players, about how the season went.
It was a new coaching group this year with Ralph Darling joining as assistant coach and Scott Mayhew and Lemi Masoe as managers, and they had been a ‘‘brilliant bunch to work with’’.
They would review how they operated, along with players and individual performances to shape the next season.
‘‘That’s all down to the review.
‘‘You know, I love the union and I want to be a coach and who knows what the future’s going to bring for me. I believe I still have a lot to offer the Heartland team moving forward.’’

There is one thing the Heartland Championship can not get by without — the community.
Forrest said he was grateful to the team’s sponsors, supporters, players, families and community for always backing the Old Golds.
‘‘Just a massive thank-you to them. We didn’t get the result we wanted to get to in the top four and that sort of thing, or even just win the Lochore Cup, but we can’t do it without . . .sponsors and . . .then obviously our support crew is outstanding and then just to the union.
‘‘To Colin [Jackson], and Faye [Allan], and Pam [Anderson], and all the ones that have been putting in the hard work behind the scenes — people don’t know how much work they do.
‘‘To all the players and that, they’ve put in a lot of hard work a big thank you to them, and my management group. It’s been a long season. It’s not easy, it’s a lot of time away from families and that sort of thing but just a massive thank-you to them.’’

Meads Cup: ‘‘I think South Canterbury’s going to be too good. Whanganui will front up but it’s just for how long. South Canterbury’s just got game drivers, like Sam Briggs and those sort of guys that are just too good and that’s all you need.’’
Lochore Cup: ‘‘I actually hope East Coast win. Ruatoria won’t be easy up there. I think if Mid Canterbury get it right with their Fijians up there they could, but I’m hopeful that East Coast can get the job done — 2012 was the last time they were in a final. That’s when they won the Meads Cup.’’