What's happened to Tawa?
It is the question on everyone's minds as the Jubilee Cup heads into its third week and the defending champions' form slumps further.
After starting the season like a freight train with eight straight wins, Tawa looked as though they would coast to back-to-back Swindale Shield titles before having a decent tilt at Wellington club rugby's major prize.
Instead, they lost three matches in a row to Petone, Old Boys University and Marist St Pats, whose 28-21 win gave them first-round honours.
And Tawa's malaise has extended into the Jubilee Cup, where a 45-15 loss to Oriental Rongotai and a 19-all draw with Wainuiomata mean they are nearing must-win territory against Petone today.
Tawa coach Logan Ili is putting recent struggles down to the top two inches - possibly a result of too much success filtering into the collective psyche.
"There's not really many excuses. It's more the mental attributes we need to address and we're doing that. At the end of the day it's the will to win," he said.
"We'll get there but we need to realise we just have to front up every week."
Slow starts were a recurring problem and against improving opponents that needed to change.
"I understand a lot of people are saying, four losses and a draw in five matches is a concern.
"Other teams are getting fitter and they're getting their second wind, and now we have to do the same," Ili said.
Compounding Tawa's issues is the loss of influential first five-eighth James So'oialo, who has not played since the final round of the Swindale Shield.
The Samoan international pulled up after that match, against MSP, with a knee injury and will be out for at least another two weeks.
Experienced back Etuale Togia was running the cutter but Phillip Finau will take the reins today.
And Tawa's task is not made any easier by the fact three key members of the tight five will back up after playing for the Wellington XV during a trial match in Palmerston North on Wednesday night. That includes prop Tolu Fohomokoia, hooker Lotu Nuku and lock Kaipati Gaualofa.
Wing George Tilsley is also missing until further notice after being called into New Zealand's Commonwealth Games sevens squad. Club coaches are privately peeved at the timing of Wellington's representative fixture at such a crucial juncture of the Jubilee Cup.
Leaders Hutt Old Boys Marist are hardest hit, with six players backing up for their match against bottom-placed Upper Hutt at Maidstone Park.
Second-placed Wainui will be looking to consolidate a solid start to the second round when they host Old Boys University at William Jones Park, while Marist St Pats host an Ories side searching for consistency.
In the Hardham Cup, leaders Avalon face a tricky home match against OBU B, while unbeaten Poneke travel up the road to Hataitai to play Wellington.
Winless Paremata-Plimmerton host Johnsonville, while Norths should be too strong for MSP B.
- The Dominion Post
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