Tasman Makos will be looking to sink their teeth into the Mooloo men again, writes AARON GOILE.
Zane Kapeli remembers it well.
It was his Waikato debut, a Wednesday night game against Tasman in Nelson last year, a special time pulling on the red, yellow and black jersey, starting at blindside flanker.
But come the end of the game the Mooloos had equalled a record they wouldn't be proud of.
Several top-line players were kept fresh for a relegation-saving battle against Bay of Plenty three days later, but Waikato's proud history was frayed in the 64-28 hammering by the Makos.
Since the Waikato union formed in 1921 they have never conceded more points than that - the 64 equalling the score that Hawke's Bay put on them in 1925 in Dannevirke.
So it's understandable that Kapeli, 21, is determined to get some payback tonight, when a vastly different-looking Waikato side to the one he played in last year, reacquaint themselves with Trafalgar Park.
''We got it handed to us. They just flooded in try after try,'' recalled Kapeli, who will be on the bench for a third successive match.
''It was definitely bittersweet, so stoked to put that Waikato jersey on and play ITM [Cup] level, but unfortunately the loss [soured it].
''Nothing's been said during the trainings. But yeah, definitely there's a little bit of an edge to my thoughts, and still hurting from last year.
''Yeah hopefully I get an opportunity to get on that field and have a crack at them.''
Kapeli is ''stoked'' to be on the bench again, having missed out on the 22 for the first two matches of the season, then playing 23 and 25 minutes against Taranaki and North Harbour respectively.
He knows his role is about getting his 1.92m, 101kg frame in the thick of it and making an impact.
''Everyone's played an extra 60 minutes and there should be no reason why I shouldn't be a level above in terms of speed and ball carries and aggression and that,'' said Kapeli, whose main focus of late has been on lineouts.
''Lineouts is pretty huge, so many calls, oh there's actually not many,'' he laughed, ''but to get them wrapped around my head''.
With a much-needed win over North Harbour in their last outing, Waikato can tonight take in some confidence, which had been shot after two big defeats prior to that.
''Winning's always good, no-one likes losing,'' Kapeli said. ''This week's been really good, we've had a bit of a longer break and a longer time for trainings and to focus on Tasman.
"So we're looking to tweak a few things, improve on a few things that we need to from Harbour, and looking to put it out there against Tasman.''
Tonight's hosts will be a stern test for the Mooloo men. Tasman last year earned promotion to the premiership and are unbeaten - coming off an away draw with Auckland - and Waikato coach Johnny Walters is wary.
''They like playing rugby with the ball in hand, they're very positive and they run hard, they ask questions of their opponents, and we have to be ready for that, and we are, so it's going to be a good game,'' he said.
Waikato's forwards stood up in the win over Harbour, but Walters is intent on seeing further improvement.
''Yeah, I want more, I always want more. And we expect every week for our guys to get better and better.
"We set a pretty good level against Wellington, in terms of our performance this year that's probably our best, but we need it to be better.
''I think we're realistic with where we're at. And that win on the weekend, it was an awkward sort of a win.
"It's pretty hard to dig yourself out of a hole after copping two towellings, so we're proud of the boys for the work they've put in, and we've approached this week with a real focus on our work-ons and getting our stuff right.''
In last weekend's victory in the wet Waikato's flash Harrys didn't see many opportunities, but they have previously shown their wares, and if that forward and back effort can come together, the visitors could indeed prove a handful.
AT A GLANCE
NPC, Week 4:
Tasman: Robbie Malneek, Bryce Heem, Kieron Fonotia, Tom Marshall, James Lowe, Marty Banks, Jimmy Cowan, Liam Squire, Shane Christie (c), Pete Samu, Alex Ainley, Tevita Cavubati, Siua Halanukonuka, Quentin MacDonald, Tim Perry. Res: Jesse MacDonald, Reuben Northover, Joe Wheeler, Tevita Koloamatangi, Billy Guyton, Rohan Saifoloi, David Havili.
Waikato: Albert Nikoro, Declan O'Donnell, Jordan Payne, Anton Lienert-Brown, Joe Webber, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber (c), Adam Burn, Marty Holah, Whetu Douglas, Jacob Skeen, Luke Katene, Josh Hohneck, Brayden Mitchell, Loni Uhila. Res: Harry Jones, James McGougan, Nick Ross, Zane Kapeli, Harrison Levien, Wharenui Hawera, Regan Ware.
Referee: Kane McBride.
Kickoff: 6.05 tonight, Trafalgar Park, Nelson.
- Waikato Times
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