Grand final shaping up to be a thriller
Two number 8s could hold the key to their team's fortunes in tomorrow's Hamersley Cup grand final.
Both Celtic's Kali Latu and Harlequin's Teki Veikune have been in impressive form in the build-up to the club season's finale.
They are both strong ball runners who can make big metres and keep their sides on the front foot. Both are also of similar stature and will no doubt be keeping a close eye on each other.
Latu has played for Celtic since arriving in Timaru in 2006 and is his team's second most capped player with 130 behind prop Matt Fetu.
The pair are the sole survivors from Celtic's 2006 victory, which was the club's first in 49 years. Since then Celtic have gone on to win five in a row and four of those have been against Harlequins.
By contrast Harlequins last victory was in 2008.
Veikune arrived last year after being recruited by Harlequins coach Colin Cameron, and it was his first time playing club rugby in New Zealand.
It took him time to find his feet but this year he has been sublime.
Veikune has all the skills and even made an audacious leap over would be tackler Bryce Shearer against Pleasant Point, a clip that has plenty of hits on Youtube.
Cameron said what made Veikune stand out was he was a very intelligent footballer.
"He has all the physical attributes and the intelligence makes him a very good player.
Cameron said Celtic's biggest threat was Latu.
"He runs such good lines. He hits holes rather than players."
A key job for his loose forwards would be to stop him early, he said.
Both sides have excellent loose forward trios. It, however, appears that will be the only area of change from the Harlequins pack that faced Mackenzie.
Gareth Holden injured his neck against Mackenzie, so Sam Vea returns to the pack after the birth of his first child, which will should add further impact.
Harlequins third loose forward is veteran Craig Miller.
Miller was supposed to hang up his boots this season but injuries saw his return and he has also been playing well.
Celtic's strong loose forward trio comprises captain Nick Strachan on the openside and Tom Fleming on the blind, with Tim Penitani in the mix.
Fleming is another form player so the match-up is a tantalising one.
A poll of the other senior coaches favours Harlequins to take the win.
Waimate coach Barry Matthews was the only one to back Celtic outright, while Old Boys coach Paul Tree picked Harlequins to be the victors.
Mackenzie's Justin Geary sat on the fence.
"Take your pick. Depends on which Harlies team shows up."
Temuka's David Fisher had a dollar each way.
"Harlequins had the firepower out wide but if its wet Celtic have a good chance," he said.
Pleasant Point's Gavin Miller said if Harlequins big guns are playing they may have the game breakers to beat Celtic in a close one.
- The Timaru Herald