Daylight WOB-bery in club final
Waimea Old Boys' fairytale finish became Wanderers' nightmare at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.
Few could have imagined it and no-one probably dared predict it, but Star and Garter Waimea's staggering 51-22 win over Taylors Contracting Wanderers in the Car Company Nelson Bays division one club final represented one of the more damning scorelines in the sub-union's championship history.
Waimea's remarkable victory of eight tries to three handed them their 13th title and their first since 2002. For Wanderers though, their hopes of securing a first title turned to dust.
When classy first five-eighth Marty Banks capped off a bullocking run by lock Tevita Cavubati to score Waimea's opening try in just the fourth minute, it appeared that Waimea were well in sync. A withering 15-minute onslaught soon after confirmed it as Waimea buried Wanderers in a five-try assault, ominously playing into a strong southwest wind. From that point on, the game was effectively over as a contest.
An early 7-3 lead suddenly blew out to an unbeatable 36-3 advantage on the back of further tries to Cavubati, halfback Kaide Whiting, fullback James Lowe, winger Connor Trathen and to No 8 Ben Coman.
The common thread in most of them was Banks and Lowe again unveiling their lethal double act, both repeatedly breaking the line to put players into space as Wanderers' defence continued to unravel.
A clever angled kick by second five-eighth Billy Guyton helped set up Trathen's try and it was not until Waimea were reduced to 14 men, with flanker Dan Hytongue sin-binned for a shoulder charge five minutes from the break, that Wanderers' forwards finally combined to put flanker Steve Soper across for a try.
Ahead 36-10 at halftime, Waimea added another two second-half tries to winger Michael Bates and again to Lowe - a spectacular 60m solo run that epitomised the threat he has posed to opposition defences throughout the season. But the game lost a lot of structure in the second half, allowing Wanderers to strike back with late consolation tries to Jackson Harvey and Chez Bloxham as Waimea continued to count down the minutes.
Wanderers could have been excused some extenuating circumstances after losing key midfielder Sione Holani and prop Mike Lattin to prematch injuries and reserve flanker Niu Taufa in the pre-game warm-up. But Wanderers' player-coach Dan Perrin was not offering that as any excuse. Instead he acknowledged Lowe's major role in Waimea's win.
"We didn't really want to tackle James Lowe, I think," said Perrin in mock humour.
"He just carved us up, he's been their danger man all year. He's the star of the club season and as a proud [Tasman] Makos man, I hope he takes that form into the ITM Cup because he's a special player.
"They came out with a bit more desire than us. We've had a rough 24 hours losing Sione [Holani] and Mike Lattin, and we lost another one [Niu Taufa] in the warm up with an ACL [injury] in the knee, but there's no excuses.
"We were digging pretty deep but the boys kept trying out there in that second half . . . but [Waimea] were a class act out there today, unstoppable."
As for Waimea captain Lowe, he also paid tribute to his team's "heart and ticker" and to a solid forward effort that ultimately helped to neutralise Wanderers' set phase strengths.
"We knew the job at hand, we knew what needed to be done and at the end of the day, the job was done up front first so we could unleash our backs out wide," Lowe said.
"I just couldn't be happier for the boys. We do deserve it, we've come a long way. It's been a roller coaster [season] and to come out with a win like that in a final, it's unheard of, so I'm very happy.
"We learned from the game before [against Wanderers] that they do hold people back . . . and we knew what we needed to do to break through them."
Cavubati, Coman and prop Sila Puafisi were key components in Waimea's forward effort, with stalwart lock Scott McKenzie also finally rewarded for his tireless performance.
Waimea co-coach Dion Mytton was genuinely surprised by the victory margin.
"I didn't think it'd be that high, maybe 20, but not that score, no," Mytton said.
"I think we just peaked at the right time of the year and our team unity's so strong, that's driven us hugely this week. We've played some outstanding rugby in the last six weeks really and to finish it off like that, it's so pleasing that they did what we've been telling them. It's just superb."
Wanderers' forwards rallied encouragingly early in the second half, denying Waimea possession for lengthy periods. But despite the best efforts of backs Jesse Pitman, Kerehama Barrett and Ryan Setefano, they struggled to breach a rigid Waimea defence.
Wanderers at least looked set to finish on a positive note when several pairs of hands released substitute No 8 Lealoha Musika in the dying moments. But in lunging for the try, the ball was dislodged in the tackle.
Somehow that seemed to sum up Wanderers' day.
WOB 51 (James Lowe 2, Marty Banks, Tevita Cavubati, Kaide Whiting, Connor Trathen, Ben Coman, Michael Bates tries, Billy Guyton 4 cons, pen) Wanderers 22 (Steve Soper, Jackson Harvey, Chez Bloxham tries, Jesse Pitman 2 cons, pen) Ht 36-10.