Hamersley Cup final is too close to call
The pride of country rugby clubs is on the line when Mackenzie takes on Harlequins for a spot in the Hamersley Cup final today.
It will be a tough match-up and the Rams fans will be hoping home advantage and a partisan crowd at Strathconan Park will be enough to get them home.
For five of the past six years Celtic and Harlequins have contested the game that matters most, with only Pleasant Point breaking that sequence last year, but for many country fans the Mud Dogs are seen as a pseudo town team.
Mackenzie last lifted the silverware in 2004 and made the final the following year, so they are keen to break the drought.
Coach Justin Geary has his side firing and he will hope there is enough left in the tank.
It would be a cruel blow with only two losses in 14 games in the regular season, then to drop the two in a row that really mattered.
Harlequins will be a tough nut to crack with all their finals experience. Most people rate them as the best attacking outfit in the competition if they are on song.
Mackenzie, too, have plenty of attacking ability but they have lost three key players in three weeks while Harlequins have welcomed everyone back into the fold.
Harlequins' Colin Cameron had to tell three regulars they weren't stripping. The key to Harlequins getting home was to be patient and not give away penalties, he said.
The Quins have tons of natural ability and flair but can rush things at times.
"Mackenzie are a well balanced side and with two draws. We haven't got past them this season.
"George Williams is a danger as he kicked eight from eight against Celtic last week."
Mackenzie coach Justin Geary was well aware of Harlequins threats but believes his side is up to the task.
"We just need to shut their runners down quickly and not give them space."
Geary believes his pack, especially the front row, have been underrated this season and will match up.
Likewise, while most of the attention in the backline falls on classy veteran centre Fa'aitu Tuamoheloa, the others around him have also stepped up and Mackenzie may have a few surprises in store.
"It should be a great game. The boys are certainly up for it."
The key match-ups are in the front row where props Gus Lang and Aaron McCall have plenty of experience with well over 200 caps for the Rams between them. They will face Telusa Latu and Timaru Tafa
The battle of the hookers will also be an interesting one with Johnny Andrews up against Harlequins captain Nathan Tubb.
Andrews is a strong ball carrier while Tubb never takes a backward step.
Rams captain Stu Cartwright will face the in form No 8 Teki Veikune and their match-up will be a key.
Harlequins have recruited university student Jordan Hooke at halfback which allows Scott Norton out one.
Hooke will face one of the competitions better performing halfs in George Lott so again it will be interesting.
Harlequins have put their hard running loose forward Sam Vea at second five but he will have to work hard to shake off Tuamoheloa.
Another key for Mackenzie will be to keep the ball away from Harlequins fullback Paula Fifita, who can be a devastating runner.
Mackenzie's George Williams is no slug either coming in from the back so it could come down to the side that makes the fewest mistakes.
Draws are somewhat unusual these days in the Hamersley Cup so having had two already this season someone has to come out on top and Harlequins might just have the edge.
The Timaru Herald