Big two chase their shield of dreams
Tawa captain Taniela Koroi might not make it on to the field against Marist St Pats, but the fact he'll try speaks volumes for what's on the line at Kilbirnie Park today.
After 11 rounds of Wellington's premier club competition, only a solitary point separates defending champions Tawa and Marist St Pats heading into the final round.
That's created a virtual final, and after having the cast that has encased his broken left thumb for the past seven weeks removed last night, Koroi will make a late bid to be part of the action.
"It's been pretty hard watching since Easter, so hopefully I can test it out and be OK to play," Tawa's inspirational prop said yesterday.
"I'm supposed to wait a week after I take the cast off, but we'll see. I'd love to be out there."
The Swindale Shield, the prize for the club which wins the opening round, is often derided as the poor cousin to the season-ending Jubilee Cup.
But Koroi, who became the first Tawa captain to lift the shield last year, said it was a symbol of pride at the Lyndhurst Park clubrooms.
Tawa also need a lift after back-to-back losses to Petone and Old Boys University spoilt their previously unbeaten season and opened the door to MSP.
"Two weeks ago we learned a lesson against Petone. We hadn't lost at home for two years and we thought we'd just rock up and beat Petone and they hurt us," Koroi said. "We are still hurting from that. Tomorrow we don't want to lose again, we don't want to try and hold the shield, we want to win it again."
Their cause is helped by the return from concussion of New Zealand sevens wing George Tilsley in a backline led by experienced first five-eighth James So'oialo and centre Tu Umaga-Marshall.
Up front lock Doug Fletcher has been influential after returning from a stint in Italy, while No 8 Sam Blair will be key off the back of the scrum.
Marist captain and halfback Peter Sciascia was also quick to dismiss the suggestion the first-round title wasn't important.
"It does mean a lot, big time. We haven't had it since 2008, which was my first year at the club, so it's been a while," he said.
"As a team we said a few weeks ago we'd love to bring it down to a final. We saw the draw and Tawa up ahead of everyone and our goal was to bring it to a final and we have."
MSP have been solid rather than spectacular this season with losses to Oriental Rongotai and OBU and a draw with Wainuiomata.
But there have been flashes of brilliance, often from first five-eighth Fa'atonu Fili and wing Ryan Setefano in a backline bolstered by Hurricanes midfielder Cardiff Vaega.
Up front there's been a steady improvement with youngsters, lock Nick Harrison and openside Isaac O'Connor, enhancing their reputations.
Tawa, MSP, Wainuiomata and Petone are all safely through to the Jubilee Cup's top eight, but further down the table there are five sides scrapping to avoid relegation to the Hardham Cup.
Ninth-placed Norths are most at risk of joining Poneke, Johnsonville and Wellington in the bottom four.
Norths must beat Upper Hutt at Porirua Park to make it through, while OBU, Hutt Old Boys and Ories are all at risk if they don't win.
OBU plays Wainui at the Basin Reserve, HOBM host Wellington, while Ories and Poneke celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Jimmy Grbich Shield at the Polo Ground.
The Dominion Post