OPINION: You've got to like the Southland Rams. Winless last year, today they will take the field to contest the South Island provincial grand finals against the Tasman Titans.
That in itself would have turned heads around the province but it's even better than that because - hell's teeth - haven't they done it old school?
The team's path to the final in Nelson today has been amateurish in the best possible sense, facing physical and financial challenges aplenty and toughing through it all.
The Rams have certainly given it guts on the field. Even when they lost to Tasman earlier in the season, it was in a 32-30 thriller. You can tell the Rams left it all out on the field that game, because coach Warrick Anderson didn't make them run sprints straight afterwards the way he had the week before, after what struck him as a far too cruisy 50-14 win over an invitational team during the bye round.
Then came the slap in the face from the Canterbury Bulls which, in the process of wafting majestically into the final, defaulted against the Rams on the insistence, less than plausible, that they just couldn't muster a team. The NZRL said that decision was against the spirit of the game and booted the Bulls from the competition.
Good. It was entirely the right call and no amount of bovine wailing from the Cantabs changes that. They had already qualified for the finals and, in practical terms, pretty much all they needed to do to get there was to show up. Which was beyond them because of a sudden case of mass player unavailability. Right there we have an example of the difference between amateurism and rank amateurish indulgence.
The Rams' difficulties this season have also included a real venue struggle, playing only a couple of games at Rugby Park this season.
This was partly because of the cost of the exercise and the fact that the Rams are rolling in money - just toss a dollar coin on the floor and watch these hard-up guys pile in on top of it. And it was partly because of a booking date muck-up.
It gets worse. Or better, if you like a hard-case story. Then came the problem of making it to Nelson at the small cost of $10,000 to $15,000 that the Southlanders just didn't have.
Undaunted, and with sponsor Provincial Drainage nicely covering half the costs, the team are going on a road trip that deserves folk status.
They will cram into mini-vans and head north on an epic journey, stopping in Christchurch to bunk down about 3am or a bit later, on mattresses laid on with some friends of second-rower Chee Turuwhenua, before resuming their journey.
Southland District Rugby League president Nic Brady acknowledges that it amounts to one heck of a trip, but says that would make victory all the sweeter. Which is absolutely right.
The Rams are liable to be pretty much shattered from the journey north and the Titans are formidable opponents in any case.
But given the right attitude, hardships empower hard men.
Many teams like to talk down their chances publicly and paint themselves as up-against-the-odds underdogs with nothing to lose and everything to win. Sinking the Titans in these circumstances would be, well, a titanic task.
But remind us again, what happened to the Titanic?
- The Southland Times
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