Makos hopefuls shine in the rain
Two motivated trial teams underlined the growing depth at the top level of Tasman rugby on Wednesday evening.
Despite wet conditions and a slippery ball at Blenheim's Lansdowne Park, the Nelson-based Buccaneers and the Marlborough-dominated Musseleers sides turned on an entertaining, full-blooded encounter, leaving the Makos coaches happy with the application and skills on show.
For the record, the Musseleers won 21-20, a repeat of their 19-16 triumph last year, in what has become an annual match to give mainly non-contracted club players an opportunity to push for higher honours.
Some ferocious defence, from both sides, suggested there was no shortage of motivation and, in spite of the weather, the teams endeavoured to use the ball rather than kick it, giving the outside backs a chance to show their wares.
With hard-charging No 8 Isaiah Miller to the fore, the Musseleers hoed into their work from the first whistle and were rewarded when halfback Ben Finau slid over for a trademark opportunist try.
Finau's clubmate, the irrepressible winger Johnny Ika, scored next after a thrilling counterattack to hand the locals a 14-3 lead.
However, led from the front by flanker Ethan Blackadder, the Buccaneers responded quickly. Their set pieces were largely superior and from this solid base they created tries to flanker Dan Hytongue, another standout, plus midfielder James Hawkey to trail by just a point at the break.
The early stages of the second 40 became an arm wrestle, before Ika struck again. With his side seemingly going nowhere, he snaffled the ball on his own side of halfway and dodged his way to the goal line. Tim O'Malley added his third conversion to give the home side an eight-point advantage, just enough to deny their rivals who finished strongest, prop Teu Sami scoring from a series of pick and goes and replacement fullback Eli Kneepkens converting.
Players to catch the eye among the visitors were Pari Pari Parkinson and Jeff Lepa, who ruled at lineout time, plus front rowers Eden Beech, Brendan Asomua-Goodman and Drew Petelo.
Willie Havili showed some good touches on a difficult night for ball handlers, while Hawkey and Rupena Parkinson impressed in midfield.
Ofa Folau and Josh Holdaway, replacing Musseleers skipper Vernon Fredericks who flew to Suva with the Crusaders, toiled hard in the loose while Tim O'Malley, Nick Foxley, Pecili Denicaucau and fullback Glen Ballam made the most of their opportunities wider out.
Makos skills coach Andrew Goodman said plenty of players had put hands up for selection in either the Makos, Tasman B or Tasman under-19 squads.
"Both teams played well in trying conditions ... there was a lot of purpose in D, it was just a good game of rugby really," he said.
"We told the players that it wasn't a trial match - that they were to go out there to win. We wanted to put them under scoreboard pressure and see how they responded."
Scores: Musseleers 21 (Ben Finau, Johnny Ika 2 tries, Tim O'Malley 3 con) Buccaneers 20 (Daniel Hytongue, James Hawkey, Teu Sami tries, Willie Havili pen, Eli Kneepkens con). HT: 14-13 Musseleers