Time for Marlborough sides to step up
It's about time Marlborough's division one club rugby teams stamped their mark on the Tasman Trophy.
Success in the top of the south competition, which has been played in various guises for several seasons now, has been few and far between for clubs on this side of the Whangamoas.
A notable exception was provided by Waitohi, who picked up the silverware in 2014 but, since then, Nelson-based sides have dominated. In 2015 the one-off final was contested by two Nelson sides while, last season only Moutere managed to find their way into the semifinals.
Too often Marlborough's representatives have battled for consistency during the six cross-over matches, often citing injury woes and a lack of numbers as reasons for their downfall.
It is time for the excuses to end and teams to get serious about top of the south dominance.
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This season four Marlborough-based sides enter the battle well-equipped to go all the way. Renwick, Moutere and Waitohi have dominated the first round sub-union exchanges, the first two sides sitting on 19 points and the latter on 18, providing a solid base to build on. Central, although slow starters, have gleaned a maximum 10 points from their last two games, and have enough pedigree to be among the semifinalists. The quartet have depth and experience in key positions.
East Coast and Harlequins sit at the bottom of the table and have minimal chance of reaching the play-offs, but can kick start the remainder of their season with a strong Tasman Trophy run.
The top-of-the-table clash between Renwick and Nelson highlights the first round of cross-overs on Saturday. They meet at the Renwick Domain in a match that will offer an early guideline to the respective strengths of the sub-union competitions.
Nelson won the first round of the Nelson Bays competition, despite losing to Wanderers in the last game. Loosies Ethan Blackadder, Shane Grieve and Isaiah Miller have been the stars up front, with former Nelson College stars Willy Havili and Tima Faingaanuku the backline keys, although Blackadder (Crusaders) and Faingaanuku (NZ U20) are expected to be absent on Saturday.
The other game being played on Marlborough soil on Saturday will be at Lansdowne Park, where Central take on Wanderers.
The Brightwater-based outfit are without key players Tone Ng Shiu and Trael Joass, in the NZ Sevens set-up, but are slowly finding form. Utility back Jesse Pitman, who debuted for the Makos last year, is still the key although they have a strong loose forward trio in rugged flanker Steve Soper, No 8 Gus Gibbens and new South African flanker Jacobus de Kock.
The Blues will be without the recently-recruited Robbie Malneek, plus Dusty Foley and Gareth Smith.
Best-placed of the travelling Marlborough sides is Waitohi. They meet the inconsistent Kahurangi in Motueka and will fancy their chances against a side who have won only once this year. They are missing playmakers Mike Wells and Andrew Knewstubb (NZ Sevens), but prop Brock Kaahu, lock and captain Kane McLeod and No 8 Paea Taulanga provide experience up front.
Moutere will take on a dangerous Waimea Old Boys outfit at Jubilee Park, Richmond. Playmaker James Lash in the 10 jersey, flanker Dan Hytongue, Mako Jeff Lepa and lock Ben Coman are back, with former South Canterbury and West Coast Heartland winger, Erenimo (Mo) Tau making an early impression out wide.
Jack Best and Blake Parata will be missing for the Magpies this weekend.
East Coast will meet Stoke at Nayland College. The Red and Whites have an exciting line-up, despite narrowly losing all five games so far. Lock Pari Pari Parkinson, prop Tom Hill, No 8 Foti Siaki and fullback Sam Chamberlain are key players.
Harlequins will tackle a Marist side capable of beating anyone on their day, but struggling with injuries. Flanker Te Puoho Stephens, halfback Shawn Begg, midfielder James Hawkey and fullback Lote Saulekaleka are influential players.
Saturday's draw: Marist v Harlequins, Tahunanui; Central v Wanderers, Lansdowne Park 1; Renwick v Nelson, Renwick Domain; Waimea Old Boys v Moutere, Jubilee Park; Kahurangi v Waitohi, Sports Park Motueka; Stoke v East Coast, Nayland College. All games kick off at 3pm.
Standings after first round: Nelson 20, Renwick 19, Moutere 19, Waimea Old Boys 19, Waitohi 18, Wanderers 14, Marist 14, Central 10, Stoke 6, East Coast 6, Kahurangi 4, Harlequins -5.