Friendships put aside for final
It might not be State of Origin but it will be mate against mate in the premier one college rugby final on Sunday.
The two captains for the final, Jack McCormack (St Pat's Silverstream) and TJ Va'a (Scots), are close friends off the park.
It is a friendship that dates back to their primary school days at Wellesley College. The pair have spent the best part of a decade playing rugby with and against each other and are often together away from the sports field.
But that will not dull their desire for victory this weekend.
"I think it makes the game even bigger," McCormack said. "You don't want to lose to your best mate."
Not that McCormack, who also led Silverstream last year, needs any extra motivation. The rugged loose forward spent seven months rebuilding his strength and fitness, after a shoulder operation, to give himself another chance to win a premier one title.
He was a member of the winning Silverstream squad in 2012 but had to miss the semifinal and final because of injury and was a forlorn figure, with his shoulder in a sling, after Silverstream suffered an unexpected loss to Wellington College in last year's final.
McCormack had been nursing a shoulder injury last winter but after being cleared to play in the final, after a few weeks on the sideline, lasted only 25 minutes into the game.
"It [the shoulder] popped two or three times in the final," McCormack said. "The last time, it popped out and didn't want to go back in. I spent 10 minutes in the changing rooms trying to put my shoulder back in.
"It wasn't that painful but you couldn't move it up or down, which is not very useful when you are trying to play rugby."
McCormack went to his physiotherapist the next day and mapped out a plan for surgery aimed at having him back playing this season, though there was another holdup when his surgeon broke a wrist, delaying the operation by six weeks.
McCormack had the operation in November but did not return to rugby till late June. "I spent a lot of time working on the rehab, to get it right. It was a step by step process and took a lot of work in the gym and running around the Korokoro hills."
But McCormack didn't find the process too frustrating. "Once I'd had the surgery, every day was a step closer to playing."
However, he has taken time to regain his confidence and form. "My form hasn't been that flash. The shoulder has held up all right but it was more a matter of adjusting mentally and telling yourself that you can get in there and make the tackle.
"I only had two games before going to the Hurricanes [under-18] camp and my form there was not that good. But that has made me a little hungrier and I felt I was starting to hit some decent form after the St Pat's Town match [on July 23]."
Silverstream always promised to have an outstanding team this winter and making the premier one final again was a key goal for McCormack.
"Winning on Sunday would be the high point of my rugby career, definitely. There would be nothing better than winning in year 13.
"It's what you dreamed off from year 9. It would be pretty special."
Silverstream have been unbeaten in the local competition this year but there have been hiccups, including a traditional loss against Palmerston North Boys', and there remains a feeling that the team has yet to realise its full potential.
"In a couple of games we haven't played that well but we have still been able to win," McCormack said. "I'm totally confident we can win [on Sunday] but we are up against some decent opposition. Scots are a really good side and to be honest, they have been very impressive."
Silverstream have considerable depth, especially in the forward pack, but have had that depth tested by injuries this year. Talented back Lester Maulolo has missed the whole season, No 8 Nesie Solia suffered a serious knee injury last month and hooker Lewis Ngatai also missed the season.
In addition, lock and Hurricanes under-18 rep Lui Okeamoa-Luamanu is in doubt for Sunday after being sidelined for a period with headaches. Luamanu, who missed the 2013 final, is under the care of the Hurricanes medical staff, who will make the call on his availability this week.
Dynamic hooker Asafo Aumua was back in action, after a suspension, in the semifinal against Wellington College last weekend, though he might have come off the bench again, with his replacement, Ivan Fepuleai, starring in his own right.
McCormack, Daniel Schrijvers and Joe Apikotoa make up a formidable loose forward trio and first five-eighth Nic Mannix has successfully managed a shoulder injury. Jarrod Adams and Losi Filipo provide pace and power wider out and winger Salesi Rayasi scored four tries against Scots in the round robin clash.
AT A GLANCE
St Pat's Silverstream v Scots College
2.45pm Sunday, Porirua Park
Live on rugby channel
The Dominion Post