This weekend’s Major Semi-Final at Toll Stadium is not just a dress rehearsal for everyone involved. For two teams, it will be the last time they put their club colours on and represent their club in 2014. Many players can play their entire career without ever winning a Championship or ever playing in a Grand Final. Grand Finals are the pinnacle of ALL sport, it’s why we play, it’s why we join a team.
Game One – Hikurangi Stags v Hokianga Pioneers – Kick Off 1pm
The Stags qualified for the Major Semi Finals by finishing 2nd in the Premiership and as a result had the first week off in finals football. The Stags, who are in contention to win their fourth Premiership in a row, would have enjoyed the week off, as it will give player/coach Joe Rau, an extra chance of making the field after he dislocated his shoulder four weeks ago. He stands at a 30% chance of playing and if he does play it will probably see him working solely as a ball distributor, which could provide the Pioneers an obvious target.
Should Rau not play, they have the experienced Moses Cooper and Te Tuhi Tipene, to take control in the halves. The key for the Stags will be if they have the go forward to match the big Pioneers pack – the Stags’ strength lies in their disciplined game plan, which sees them play expansive football, feeding their youthful speed out wide in the form of Joachim and Zabdiel Edmonds and Wayne Iripa.
The Pioneers reached the Major Semi’s by finishing 3rd in the Premiership and defeating the Northern Wairoa Bulls 40 – 20 in week one of the Play Offs. The Pioneers dominated the Bulls on the back of a powerful pack led by Elliot Pomare and Te Waironga Tohu. However, the key to their success was Captain, Richard Koroi, playing at Stand Off. Koroi who is built more like a 2nd Row was devastating against the Bulls. His strength lies with his ability to run with the ball ,as well as a slick passing game, this allows him to have the defense line caught in between two minds. His combination with Wiremu Snowden-Te Iringa at centre was lethal last week with Wiremu scoring a hat-trick of tries.
This will be the third year in a row that the Pioneers have reached this stage of the competition, this could be the year that they go the extra step and make the final, however they will need to bring their A game and Koroi will need to live up to his reputation. There is nothing separating the two teams in 2014. The Stags won their Rd 4 encounter 36 – 26, while the Pioneers won their Rd 13 match 28 – 22. This game will be a CRACKER!
Game Two – Takahiwai Warriors v Otangarei Knights – Kick Off 3pm
The Warriors have been the form team of 2014, winning the Minor Premiership finishing 5 points clear of 2nd place with a massive 524 points differential. It would be an understatement to say that they dominated the competition. The biggest challenge preventing the Warriors from winning their first premiership since 2008 will be complacency. However, they have two experienced coaches in the form of Shane Hool and Mark Freeman who will be ensuring the Warriors will be prepared for the Knights this week.
The Warriors are a workman-like football team. They play on the back of Captain, Edward Wilson, and loose forward, Adam Donaldson’s relentless go forward. They are backed up by a solid pack that rolls their sleeves up with a no-nonsense go forward and quick play of the balls.
Completing the picture for the Warriors, is their little general, Joel Freeman, at Half Back, with a slick passing game to feed the dynamic cousins, Rikki and Charles Tarau and fullback, Hori Tuhoro.
The Knights have been 2014 big improvers – consistently strong, 2014 has been a good season, having progressed from 2013 where they got knocked out by the Pioneers in the minor semis in 2013. The Knights’ progress from the Minor Semi-Finals, winning a last minute thriller against the Portland Panthers 24 – 16.
Captain, Herewini Edmonds, is their key play maker. When he fires, the team follows. They have an ability to launch an attack from anywhere on the paddock with pace and strength out wide. Zion Rota at Fullback is freakishly strong, while Jordan Katene provides able back up to Edmonds in the halves.
The Knights lack a bit of size up front, but more than make up for this in attitude. Prop, Jordan Holtz is their quiet achiever with DJ Rangi and Sua Sosopo providing strong support.
The Knights will miss instrumental hooker in Linn Hunapo, who was stretchered off in last week’s semi final. The pleasing news is that Hunapo will make a full recovery.
Going by form you would imagine Takahiwai to be too strong for the Knights – in previous encounters the Warriors won 40 -16 in Rd 1 and 32 – 20 in Rd 10. However the Knights should not be underestimated!
Grand Finals – August 9th Toll Stadium
Grand Finals 15s – Kick Off 12noon
Grand Finals 18s – Kick Off 1:30pm
Grand Finals Premiers – Kick Off 3:00pm