Jubilee Cup victory would be fitting end
Kas Lealamanua registered with Marist St Pat's presidents grade side at the start of the season.
Nearing the end of his long career and after a physically taxing season with Hawke's Bay, the 35-year-old prop figured enough was enough.
And with four Jubilee Cup titles, 34 tests for Samoa, 27 games for Wellington, five years in France, and a couple of seasons in Napier, no-one begrudged him his decision.
Hence, Lealamanua is struggling a little to work out how he's ended up captaining MSP in tomorrow's Jubilee Cup final against Oriental Rongotai.
"I was supposed to be playing pressies this year," he laughed yesterday.
"We had a couple of injuries and all these guys [the coaches] were like, ‘they'll be back from injury soon', so I thought OK, I'll play till they come back, but nobody came back."
And so Lealamanua has ended up playing all but one of MSP's 19 matches, and in his 140th match for the premiers will lead them on to the Hutt Recreation Ground for what could be his final hurrah.
"I got halfway through the second round and said I may as well hang on till the end of the season," he said. "I'm glad I have, it's been a good year."
Lealamanua would know, having played his first premier game in 1996 and won his first title the following year as a 20-year-old at Athletic Park.
It's that sort of experience - there are a combined 18 Jubilee Cup titles in the starting XV - that's taken MSP to this year's final.
Wing JP Tocker and first five-eighth Fa'atonu Fili are also centurions, while openside Sio Tuia (93 games), and locks Bernie Upton (89) and Tongan international Lua Lokotui are vastly experienced.
At the other end of the scale is fullback Andrew Wells, who, in his first year out of school, has played every minute of every match this season, while the presence of Hurricanes prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen is a big boost. For all that, the final promises to be the closest of matches and the sides drew 9-9 two weeks ago.
Where MSP have experience, defending champions Oriental Rongotai have unbridled youth and talent, particularly in the backs.
New Zealand under-20s players, fullback Matt Proctor and wing Ambrose Curtis, have shown their class all year, centre Paulo Aukuso has produced week-in week-out, and second five-eighth Ahtun Masun is a formidable defender.
With Ardie Savea proving a major force at openside, a wide game seems the logical tactic for coach Phil Proctor.
What remains to be seen is whether first five-eighth Trevor Marama gets enough ball to unleash his backs.
The Ories pack is more than capable, with captain and prop Donal McNamara and blindside Pau Halafihi influential, while the Hurricanes pair of hooker Motu Matu'u and lock Mark Reddish have added punch late in the season.
Recent history favours Ories, who have won four of the last six meetings going back to 2010.
The Dominion Post