It's the champions against the first-timers, the top seeds against the third-ranked team - a mirror image of last season.
Tomorrow's Waikato Breweries Shield premier club rugby championship final between Shenanigans Fraser-Tech and OTC Otorohanga will kick off at Waikato Stadium at 5pm.
Top qualifiers Fraser-Tech have won the shield for the past two years in a row and are gunning to become the first club to win three titles in a row since the Waikato-wide competition started in 1966. But they were in exactly the same position last year that Otorohanga now find themselves in, going into their first final. Last season Tech knocked Otorohanga out 11-6 in a semifinal played at Otorohanga's Island Reserve, with Otorohanga the second seeds and Tech at No 3.
Tech then went on to pip top-ranked Hamilton Old Boys with a converted try in injury time to win the final.
"They showed us third place could win the competition," Otorohanga head coach James White said.
"They went on to play Old Boys in the final, who were first, so we're coming in, in the position they were last year. They taught us a lot from that and hopefully we get things right this weekend."
White has said for some time this season that the competition is so close any number of teams had a chance of winning it and he still believes that.
Otorohanga reached their first final by upsetting second-ranked Hamilton Marist 33-26 at Marist Park last weekend, holding off a Marist comeback, while Fraser-Tech drew 17-17 with Old Boys after 20 minutes of extra time at Elliott Park and qualified for the final on the strength of scoring the first try.
White described his team's victory to make their first final as a huge effort for a small-town team that competed with two other rugby sides and two rugby league sides in the area.
"We might have given them a bit of a fright, how we started," White said.
"We put a lot of pressure on them up front and because the last couple of games we'd played [against them] they'd beaten us up, I think they got a bit of a fright when we came at them. We got the little things right on Saturday and I think that was the difference."
Having won the most games of the season - pipped only by Tech's greater number of bonus points - and being the form team of the season, the forwards had to lift for the semifinal and take a nothing-to-lose approach. Now they aim to do the same for the final.
"We're up for it, just like Fraser-Tech are, and in some ways it's good to play Fraser-Tech because they've been the most dominant or consistent team over the last two or three years and to play them in the final is a good challenge for us," White said.
Ironically, it is Fraser-Tech whom school teacher White played most of his senior club rugby with and he was in the 1997 squad that also won the championship. But that is a long time in the past and he is focused on beating them tomorrow. "Finals footy - we're two pretty even teams and it's who wants it the most on the day. We know with their record we have to be prepared to go right to the end."
Now the buses have been organised to get the club's supporters to the stadium and Otorohanga are hoping for plenty of support.
Fraser-Tech head coach Roger Randle is going into his fourth final in a row as coach, having teamed up with Nick Holten in 2009 when they were beaten by Morrinsville Sports and then winning the last two years as head coach against Morrinsville and Old Boys.
He expects Otorohanga to have plenty of support from not just their own club supporters but other Waikato clubs, having never won the title before.
"A lot of people will want them to win," Randle said.
And he expects them to be a handful in tomorrow's final, the two teams having split their two regular season clashes.
"They're pretty much on form and have got threats all over the place.
"They have got an awesome forward pack and outstanding runners in their backline, so they're going to be tough.
"We're still quietly confident we can go across the road to the stadium and put in a performance that we as a group, our families and our supporters can be proud of.
"But they deserve to be going in as slight favourites."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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