Pennicott hopes Cooks can end season on high
Southland rugby league stalwart Korey Pennicott is hoping to cap off a fine 2012 season with a title in tomorrow's club final at Rugby Park.
The Cooks standoff has been one of the premier players in the competition this year and is a certainty to be named in the Southland Rams representative squad again later in the year.
Much of the Cooks attack will revolve around Pennicott and halfback Eddie Hei Hei in the decider against He Tauaa.
Pennicott is a vastly experienced performer who trialled for the South Island team last year and has been a mainstay of the Rams squad over the past decade.
In the forwards, Cooks will be looking for hard-working prop Mike Lemale to lead the way, while second rower Kieran Turuwhenua has proved to be a valuable recruit after linking up from the Aranui club in Christchurch.
The 32-year-old Pennicott said his team was excited about the chance to play at Rugby Park in the final and admitted it would be a new experience for many of the players in the side.
"That's what some of them are talking about now. They've never played there before," Pennicott said.
"There's nerves in a couple of them, but I think everyone is amped up and ready to go."
Cooks have hit form at exactly the right stage of the season and showed how destructive they can be when they comfortably accounted for last year's champions, the Lonestar Cowboys, 46-22 in last weekend's semifinal.
They will head into tomorrow's grand final with plenty of confidence, having beaten He Tauaa 46-10 earlier this month, and picking up a 38-all draw against the same opponents at the beginning of the season.
Both sides were missing key personnel for those games, however, and Pennicott predicted a tight encounter against a talented He Tauaa side.
He pinpointed He Tauaa standoff Pale Tuilagi and centres Byron Curtis and Rocky Pettigrew as the men Cooks needed to watch out for if they were to claim the silverware. Curtis and Pettigrew have been arguably the best centre combination in the competition this season, with Pettigrew dotting down for 19 tries alone.
"Now they've got Pale in there, that changes the passing game," Pennicott said. "They'll play a bit of an expansive game now."
Pennicott rated the standard of this year's Southland District Rugby League competition as one of the most competitive in several seasons.
He said players had a huge incentive to perform well this season with the Rams being coached by the highly respected Warrick Anderson. The Christchurch-based Anderson is the father of former Kiwi and New Zealand Warriors players Vinnie and Louis Anderson and has previously been a player scout for the Warriors, Brisbane Broncos and Cronulla Sharks.
"This year, it will be the best (Rams) team since I've been here. (Warrick) has changed everything. Everyone wants to play now," Pennicott said. "It will be the strongest team in quite a few years."
It will be a busy weekend for Pennicott, who will line up at second-five for Woodlands in today's Galbraith Shield rugby semifinal against Star at Les George Oval.
Pennicott started playing the 15-man code four years ago, and said he enjoyed the challenge of playing two different sports over the weekend.
He Tauaa will not be lacking any motivation for the final as they attempt to win their first title since 2006.
Captain Shaun Tamariki-Todd said his side would be playing for the late Tavita Fa'amoe-Ioane, who died suddenly following training, before the start of the season.
Fa'amoe-Ioane, was a legend of the He Tauaa club, and his brother, Moses, is coach of the team. Tavita's sons, Javaan and Jayleel, are also integral members of the side.
"It would be huge (to win for him)," Tamariki-Todd said.
"I can't really put it into words. Everyone is playing for him."
Tamariki-Todd said He Tauaa had been working hard on finetuning their attack this week and they needed to limit the involvement of Pennicott and Hei Hei if they were to prevail tomorrow.
"I think it's more about shutting Eddie down. We expect Korey to run anyway.
"When Eddie gets that ball from Korey, he's going to run all the time. We want to shut him down."
Kickoff is at 3pm.