After all the drama comes the main act
Amid all the subterfuge and sideshows of the past week the Tasman Titans remain focused on one thing: winning the South Island districts rugby league title by defeating the Southland Rams at Trafalgar Park tomorrow.
The only sure thing amid the turmoil that is Southern Zone rugby league in 2012, is the Titans earned their place in the final through their on-field performances. If the Titans take the trophy this weekend, no matter what the circumstances, they can stand tall amid the debris of a crumbling competition.
The proverbial storm hit the series last Thursday and it keeps on blowing. Schemes, defaults, bans, appeals, dismissals, financial woes and mini-vans have all featured, so it wouldn't surprise if more twists turned up before kick-off at 3pm tomorrow.
Yesterday morning the Southland Rams were considering a default of their own, as the trip to contest the finals in Nelson was shaping as too steep for the cash-strapped side. Southland scraped in with a last minute sponsorship deal which allowed them to hire mini-vans and the Rams set off on their 13-hour, 1000km trek at 9pm last night.
Small budgets and competition heavies throwing their weight around have made for a challenging year but general manager Steve Martin has handled all the curve balls thrown at him like a pinch hitter.
Martin had the steel to suspend defending champions Canterbury when they diverted the course of the competition by defaulting their last match, a move that could have cost Tasman a spot in the final.
The New Zealand Rugby League board backed up their man by dismissing Canterbury's appeal earlier this week.
While Tasman coach Phil Bergman hailed the professional manner in which the "incredible occurrences" had been handled this past week, he said Tasman have only ever worried about one thing.
"We are just focused on winning whatever happened or whoever we played. We were always confident we were going to end up at this point of the season whether we were first or second.
"As it turns out we ended up first by default . . . but that is a bit of a shame because we wanted to have another chop at them [Canterbury]. In the same breath Southland are a very good side as well so we won't be taking them as any easybeats."
Southland were the easybeats in 2011, losing every game, but the Rams have made giant strides this year.
They beat both the Otago Whalers (34-28) and the West Coast Chargers (32-18), their only loss coming against Tasman, who went down to Rugby Park in Invercargill and took the points 32-30.
Bergman said the Tasman Titans side is at full strength heading into the final. Adding "punch up the middle" is almost an understatement when discussing the return of Joe Collins and James Vailanu but Tasman are likely to be more direct with their human wrecking balls in the pack.
With the all-important trio of dummy-half, stand-off and fullback in fine form for the Titans, the addition of some bulk in the pack should just create some more gaps for the quick men to exploit.
Southland coach Warrick Anderson has said it would be a "miracle" for his side to pick up the win in Nelson.
However, given all that has transpired in the buildup to the big dance, the Tasman Titans know anything is possible and will be on their guard.
AT A GLANCE
Who: Tasman Titans v Southland Rams. What: South Island districts rugby league grand final. Where: Trafalgar Park. When: Kick-off 3pm tomorrow. How much: Gold coin donation. Tasman Titans: Lucas Bennett, Kaiapa Paul, Callum Smith, Sam Hedges, Jamein Bristowe (c), Rangi Ngaruhe, Hayden Smith, Tamaio Piripi, Troy Wilson, James Piukala, Shannon Telfar, Jarrod Albert, Johnny Delore. Interchange: James Vailanu, Joe Collins, Freedom Walker, Hoani Takao. Southland Rams: Arfi Peteru, Rocky Pettigrew, Micky Seymour, Cheyenne Hiko, Jayleel Fa'amoe-Ioane, Korey Pennicott (c), Pale Tuilagi, Omeka Raimona, Zane Hiko, Chee Turuwhenua, Shaun Tamariki-Todd, Tom Watts, Matt Birch. Interchange: Wiremu Karetai, Hone Adams, Sonny Rangitoheriri, Maurice Tala.
- © Fairfax NZ News