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Everything to play for at Uawa

The Kuru Gray-coached Tokomaru Bay United have more rugby courage than most.

During Gray’s tenure and under the leadership of legendary hard man loosehead prop Mike Chambers-Raroa — as was the case in 2020 — they were held scoreless at home in Week 1.

But that has only made victory taste all the sweeter (as when they beat Waiapu 17-13 on the road last season) and tasty performances even in losses . . . as when Uawa, 12 points in arrears at half time, came from behind to beat United 22-17 a fortnight ago.

Tomorrow in Week 6 of Enterprise Cars Ngati Porou East Coast club rugby — the penultimate game in Round 1 for the Kath McLean Memorial Cup — Tokomaru Bay United (placed seventh, one competition point) will host Tokararangi (2nd, 11pts) at Hatea-a-rangi, Uawa (3rd, 11pts) are at home to Hikurangi (4th, nine pts) with Ruatoria City (5th, nine pts) and Hicks Bay (6th, one point) to do battle at Whakarua Park.

All games kick off at 2.30pm, with Jackson Reuben-Swinton to referee United-Tokararangi, Eruera Kawhia in the middle for The Awa (River) v The Maunga (Mountain) at Uawa Domain while Harawira Matahiki has City and Hicks Bay.

Gray — a former halfback in his third year as head coach at United — and his men anticipate a high workload against Tokararangi, who beat all comers a year ago: “We’re going to get lots of tackling in: that’ll start with two guys who have started in every game this season, Portrait Watene — who, like our captain Mike Chambers-Raroa, can prop on either side of the scrum — and hooker Wyntah Riki.”

Tokararangi captain No.8 Hone Haerewa regards Hatea-a-rangi as the best ground on the Coast to play at, and can see both teams putting on a show.

“We expect United to be physical and they also have some quick elusive backs,” Haerewa said. “We’ve trained as we do for all teams in the lead-up to this game, though we’ve had a few injuries and players unavailable.”

Richard Green returns for Tokararangi at blindside flanker; their Most Valuable Player from last week’s up-tempo 58-10 win against Ruatoria City, Mohi Bartlett, moves from fullback to the left-wing. James Warnock, who scored in the first half last week off a magnificent assist by Bartlett, will again start on the right-wing.

On paper and on form, Tokararangi are firm favourites to win the match and should Whakarae Henare get a run at fullback tomorrow, the crowd will be royally entertained.

Picking a winner between Ruatoria City and Hicks Bay is no easy task.

City coach Lisa Muller and her hard-working side have played pressure, high-stakes rugby in the last month. Hooker John Brown was the only man to score for them in Week 5, though No.8 Nathaniel Fox was in form with the boot, converting Brown’s try from the left sideline.

They return tomorrow to the scene of their 15-7 win in the Ruatoria derby v Hikurangi a fortnight ago. That is a plus for the hosts, but Muller admits to the team feeling an enormous sense of occasion: “We’re still finding our feet. This now has got to be about getting our heads together to take pressure off ourselves.”

The fact that City are looking for their third win, Hicks Bay their first and the visitors tomorrow have a game to play in Week 7, should not be overlooked.

Hicks Bay’s Aaron King makes changes according to need, and has done ahead of a game that Hicks Bay and Ruatoria City — both blue-collar crews — can win.

“Our veteran Aaron Reedy will move from loosehead prop to the tighthead side, Dylan Biddle-Brown is at loosehead with Jim Hovell in at hooker,” said King. “Tiera Brown-Biddle is at halfback for Brady Heu, who goes to blindside flanker, and Weihana Delamere is our openside. Our vice-captain Frank Taiapa is unavailable but the skipper, Shaun Murtagh, is good to go — at either second-five again, or fullback.

“We trained well last night — the boys were focused, sharing ideas: they’ve got the win in them. They’ve just got to believe in themselves because we’ve got to win everything from now on to make the top four in Round 2.”

Chas Keelan was a good man and tomorrow Hikurangi will come at Uawa very hard to take back the Chas Keelan Memorial Trophy — named for a fine Hikurangi player and coach, and contested annually by The Awa and The Maunga — which Uawa won 25-3 at Kahuitara on June 15, 2019.

Hikurangi coach Matt Richards and his iconic club remain calm ahead of a fixture that will draw their full measure of devotion, and has done ever since Koro Ngarimu’s side beat Uawa 28-20 to be the inaugural winners of the trophy at Whakarua Park on May 28, 2016.

“We’re going to Uawa Domain with the same team as we fielded v City last week, and we’re looking forward to playing Uawa. It’s always a good hard game,” said Richards.

“Both teams are looking to push on — we just want to keep turning up for each other week in, week out and play as a team for 80 minutes. The result will be a bonus.”

Hikurangi will be led by No.8 Rhys Walker, while at lock a former captain — Te Matanuku Parata — wins excellent quality lineout ball. Parata’s competitiveness and heart are the equal of any other second-row forward (much bigger men included) in East Coast club rugby.

Hikurangi beat Hicks Bay 20-17 in Week 2’s stoush at Kawakawa mai Tawhiti and are coming off a 29-5 triumph over Tokomaru Bay United at Kahuitara. They have reason to be confident that they will execute and perform well.

Uawa have, in the past five years or so, often been in a class of their own: superheavyweight, with regard to forward presence, powerful running and great ball-handling in every position. On their day, they are unstoppable.

Uawa coach Chris Richardson believes that his big blue crew have played good rugby in patches but wants more from them across the board.

To that end, his captain and regular lock Scott Lasenby will now play tighthead prop, in the absence of giant front-rower Laman Davies due to injury. Lasenby has anchored the Uawa scrum twice already this season.

“We have to stick to our structure and game-plan,” said the Uawa skipper. “We won’t have Sam Parkes, he has another engagement (kickboxing), but we’re pumped up for this weekend.”