Corey Kennett can produce first-hand evidence of the worth of a tiddler union like Horowhenua-Kapiti challenging for the Ranfurly Shield, as they will do against Waikato next year.
Now the union's chief executive, Kennett was on the side of the scrum the day Horowhenua-Kapiti hosted Auckland at Levin Domain in 1993.
Even though they were thumped 80-17, the match launched 17-year-old Waiopehu College schoolboy Carlos Spencer who scored a spectacular solo try and the following season was pinched by Graham Henry's Auckland.
"For most people it was a career highlight," said Kennett who played 54 games for his union until 1995. "I have fond memories of my shield challenge."
Horowhenua-Kapiti finished bottom of the Heartland competition this year but did double their 2011 tally with two wins.
But any Heartland side is likely to be overrun by a shield holder from the ITM Cup competition.
"When a lower-ranked side has a shot at the Log of Wood, it is part occasion and part performance, the magic of the shield," Kennett said.
"We recognise it's a herculean task but for us administrators, we fought very hard and are thankful to Waikato for giving us a challenge."
Horowhenua's most recent challenge was against North Harbour at Albany in 2007 when they lost 99-6, Dion Nepia kicking two penalties. A supporters' train was put on for that match.
It would have been ideal had Horowhenua-Kapiti been able to host the challenge at Levin, as they did in 1993 when they attracted a crowd of 5000.
"I certainly put the pitch on," Kennett said.
However, Waikato are to play a defence at Ruatoria against East Coast which is likely to be the only away shield game next year.
Horowhenua's challenge won't be at Waikato Stadium because the Chiefs will still be in action in July, the game pencilled in for either July 17 or 31.
It could be held at any one of host of country grounds in Waikato such as Te Awamutu, Tokoroa, Morrinsville, Matamata or Cambridge.
Whatever happens, Kennett hopes it will be a springboard for his team into the Heartland campaign.
It will be only the union's ninth challenge in the past 98 years.
Horowhenua's Ranfurly Shield challenges: 2007 lost to North Harbour 99-6; 1993 lost to Auckland 88-17; 1986 lost to Auckland 82-6; 1980 lost to Auckland 37-3; 1978 lost to Manawatu 42-14; 1976 lost to Manawatu 36-16; 1923 lost to Hawke's Bay 38-11; 1914 lost to Taranaki 14-4.
- Manawatu Standard
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