It has been a short and sharp Citizens Shield season, with semifinals already here.
The semifinals will go ahead tomorrow, even if New Zealand is still in Alert Level 2, North Otago Rugby Union chief executive Colin Jackson said.
The union was working with the clubs on safety measures, and was liaising with New Zealand Rugby, Jackson said.
“If the level changes that is something else, but if it stays the same we will go ahead,” he said.
Country sides have dominated this season, filling the top three spots of the final four.
While Maheno and Valley have secured home semifinals tomorrow, beating Kurow and Old Boys respectively last weekend, there is little among the top four sides and all teams will need to be at their best to book a spot in next weekend’s final.
The luck of the draw means Maheno and Old Boys will play for the third time in four weeks.
Maheno, the defending champion, remains undefeated, despite having to play several people out of position for much of the season.
It boasts an impressive backline featuring North Otago players Robbie Smith, Lachie Kingan, Sam Tatupu and Adam Johnson, as well as the classy Nick McLennan.
Up front, Hayden Tisdall and lock Tom Abernathy have also been strong.
Maheno’s biggest strength, though, is its ability to close out games with Crusader-like game management qualifier Old Boys will have to be on point for 80 minutes to win.
Old Boys is a lot better than its recent run of results suggests. At times this season, it has looked unstoppable, dominating games for long periods, but then letting opposing teams back into the game.
Last Saturday’s loss against Valley is a good case in point. Old Boys had all the momentum with 10 minutes to go, but an 80m intercept try to Ben Paton secured the win for Valley.
Old Boys has no shortage of talent, especially when it comes to ball-playing forwards. Front rowers Ralph Darling, Sione Asi and Kelepi Funaki are all class acts, while loose forwards Toni Taufa and Manulua Taiti get through a heap of work. The backline has been hurt by Inoke Naufahu’s injury, but first five-eighth Mataitini Feke and Lemi Masoe are both in excellent form.
There appears to be little between Valley and Kurow this season, as was the case when they met last month.
Both sides play in a classic country rugby style. Neither is stacked with big names, but the players work hard for each other and are competitive at the breakdown.
Valley has lost only one game this season, and has coped well with the absence of Meli Kolinisau and Sam Sturgess.
Crucially, Sturgess has returned to the side before the finals, and playmaker Jake Matthews has returned from injury.
Valley has a standout forward pack led by the hard-working Cameron Rowland. In the backs, Glen Sturgess has been in great form, as has the dangerous midfield pairing of Ben Paton and Matt Vocea.
After a tough 2019 season, Kurow has gone from strength to strength this year.
Its loose forward trio of Josh Reid, Jack Kelly and Sione Kaufusi has been one of the competition’s best, and it has been solid in the set piece.
Despite losing the services of star player Hayden Parker, Sam MacDonald and Tyler Burgess have been impressive, and Ben Nowell has been one of the competition’s standout players.