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Tokomaru Bay United expect a tough time against Tihirau Victory Club

Lineout contest: Hicks Bay’s George Hooper (left) lifts Tim Wheeler for lineout ball as Tokararangi’s Watarawi Ngata (centre right, in headgear) tries to get the first touch on the ball. On Saturday, Hicks Bay take on Ruatoria City at Whakarua Park, and Tokararangi play Waiapu in Te Araroa. Picture by Jade Henderson

Hard, very hard — that’s what Tokomaru Bay United captain and loosehead prop Adam Williams expects reigning champions Tihirau Victory Club to be when Tokomaru Bay play them on TVC home turf on Saturday.

That clash and Tokararangi-Waiapu in Te Araroa are set to start at 2.30pm. At 1.15pm Ruatoria City and Hicks Bay will precede the 3pm cataclysm —Hikurangi versus Uawa — at Whakarua Park.

United began the season with a 25-12 win against Hicks Bay at Wharekahika and lost at home, 41-13, to Hikurangi last weekend.

“This is a big game,” Williams said.

“We need to play for 80 minutes, not 40.”

TVC player-coach Whetu Haerewa is not underestimating the visitors: “They’re good at set piece, especially the lineout. Their flankers are top-notch and they also have young backs that we’ll have to contend with.”

TVC’s regular captain Moana Mato missed the game against Hikurangi, having sprained his right ankle in the season opener. He is 50-50 to play but with elder brother Rika Mato, Haerewa and East Coast legend Verdon Bartlett on hand, the defending champions will have directing minds.

Tokomaru Bay coach Mike Tiopira’s men will have to play exceptionally well away from home to pull off what would be a major upset . . . away from the epicentre.

That epicentre is Whakarua Park, and Game 2 there features two unbeaten teams. Hikurangi pulled away from United (14-13 being the half-time score) after being stung by first five-eighth Joseph Elkington’s intercept try and the boot of fullback Jason Babbington.

They picked up five competition points for the win by default against City but doubtless will want to play well in their first appearance at home.

Uawa captain lock Scott Lasenby is relishing the possibilities: “We need to be physical, we need to be disciplined. It’s one we’d love to win.”

Uawa will be without powerful No.8 Kerehama Blackman due to commitments outside rugby, but Harley Phillips is equally tough and Lasenby’s outfit can weather a storm.

Regardless of the elements, Hikurangi have a superb back row. Trent Proffit, Tanetoa Parata and captain Rhys Walker are all superb athletes. They all scored tries in Week 2, and they will be ferocious.

Ruatoria City looking for their first try
They made it on to the park, they played their first game, and they scored their first points — two penalty goals, off the boot of first-five Nathaniel Fox. Now what Ruatoria City need is their first try.

“We have to take the game to Hicks Bay up front because this is a game we can win,” captain and hooker Tim Barbarich said.

“There’s renewed enthusiasm. We just need time together.”

City will have massive support at home but must watch out for the likes of Blue Walker — reserve centre against Tokararangi — and Hicks Bay fullback Sean Murtagh. Both scored remarkable tries last weekend.

Hicks Bay coach Warren Henderson said: “What we’re after is a high work-rate from players like Tim Wheeler (openside flanker) and captain Frank Taiapa (No.8), who is back from injury this week. We need to get our young players like Cleveland Taiapa with the ball in space. He’s quick.”

Tokararangi and Waiapu clash
“Enjoy it” — that’s Tokararangi captain and halfback Israel Brown’s advice to his side for their game against Waiapu.

Tokararangi lost a thriller to TVC 36-33 at Te Araroa Domain a fortnight ago and are coming off a 54-12 win against Hicks Bay at Wharekahika.

Brown’s team picked up two trophies, and left-wing Te Aho Haenga picked up four tries that day.

Waiapu have lost to Uawa (64-8) at Tolaga Bay and TVC (67-7) at Rangitukia so far, but Grayson Mauheni’s tries in those games bore testament to their perseverance.

Big loosehead prop Hoto Te Whitu and fullback Slade Tiopira play well consistently. To stand a chance, Waiapu will need to start well and keep 15 players on the field throughout, although it will be a challenge to do that while being physical and competing hard at the same time.

by Ben O’Brien-Leaf