The Upper Hutt Rams will be hoping to make to make it three wins from three when they host the Wellington Axemen tomorrow, with the Hinaki-Mei Axe on the line.
- By Scott Maclean
Draws & teamlists for round 3 HERE
Tomorrow sees the commencement of the remaining WRFU grades, but our first weekend with a full slate will have to wait until next week.
Unfortunately, most of this week’s rugby chat has been the decision to move the Hurricanes vs Chiefs match at the Stadium to the afternoon as the upgrade of the lights isn’t quite complete and creating a clash with club rugby. However, we’re certain that for true club footy fans, they’ll be on the sidelines rather than in an empty chasm a yellow seat.
In one First XV result from today, St Pat’s Silverstream pulled clear in the second half to beat visiting Christchurch school 26-5. Silverstream led 7-0 at the conclusion of a stop-start first half, then St Bede’s scored the first try of the second spell, before the home outfit crossed for three more tries.
Premier Swindale Shield
With two weeks down trends are starting to emerge. Will they still hold true after tomorrow?
Four sides have won their opening pair of matches, and two of them meet in what shapes as the feature game of the day as Petone welcome Old Boys-University out to the Petone Rec. The Villagers were made to work for their win last week against Johnsonville at Helston, but their previous outing at home saw them run riot over Norths and will be looking to turn on the style once more. Since halftime against Tawa in the opener – where they trailed 0-29 – the Goats have been in electric form and put HOBM to the sword last Saturday but do venture away from their home paddock for the first time this season.
Hoani Tui and Bradley Pritchard come into the home sides pack, while they retain the services of Riley Higgins this week where he’ll be partnered by another former Streamer in Losi Filipo. Their bench has three potential debutants with one of those – schoolboy standout Stanley Solomon – sure to attract plenty of interest.
OBU likewise have some Super Rugby firepower as Taine Plumtree is in town for another week. His brother Reece also starts, with Cody Quin, Keegan Wright the two other changes from last week’s run-on side.
The two teams also contest their Marc Verhoeven Memorial Trophy. Known to many as ‘Alby’, Verhoeven was a Jubilee Cup winning captain with the Villagers before making the move into the city to join Harlequins – as the post-merger OBU was initially named – as their inaugural Premier captain. His untimely death undergoing a routine surgery in Sydney in 2011 aged just 50 was a shock to the rugby community here. Petone hold it after their 19-10 in the opening round last season.
Up the road, the Upper Hutt Rams will likewise be looking to stay in the ranks of the unbeaten when they host Wellington at Maidstone Park. The Rams were impervious in the second half last week as they ran away from Poneke and will be favourites against the only side yet to score a competition point but will need to be wary of an Axemen side that was much improved last Thursday against Wainuiomata from their first-up effort against Ories.
The Rams have gone with youth for tomorrow with Senio Sanele, Toby Mallon, and Devon Sopoaga all making their first Premier starts alongside fellow teenagers Toby Crosby, Pene To’o, and Emmanuel Solomona. Regular skipper Aidan Woodward drops to the bench where he’s joined by Fritz Rayasi. The Axemen give starts up front to Dermot Frengley and Jarrod Reardon with Samuela Kurusiga switching from prop to No8. Junior Bese comes off the bench to partner Junior Purcell in the midfield outside of William Cosgriff and Kade Perez-Saolele.
There is interclub silverware in play here as well, as the pair play for the Hinaki-Mei Axe which was inaugurated last year and honours George Hinaki and Jim Mei who played for both clubs. Upper Hutt are the holders.
The fourth unbeaten side resides at William Jones Park, but Wainuiomata will face a strong test of their credentials with Oriental Rongotai making the journey around the harbour. The home side will have had an extra couple of days rest, and those might be handy against a Magpies outfit that will be hurting after their narrow loss to Pare-Plim. Just who can get the dominance up front could well be the deciding factor in this one.
The locals make just one change in personnel to their starting side as veteran Teru Time returns to No.8, shifting Kitiona Leitufia to blindside and Ma’a Tauaneai to the bench, which includes another returning veteran in speedster Jason Love. The visitors have rung the changes after last week’s defeat. Dom Ropeti moves to his preferred blindside position with Wellington Lion Sione Halalilo opposite him, and Siaosi Lavea comes in at No.8. Pena Va’a is absent, with Club Rugby understanding that he has moved north to Manawatu, so Malachai Unasa partners Skivi Va’a in midfield.
After no games in the Hutt at all last week, there’s four this time and the last of these is at Fraser Park as Avalon make their season bow at home. The Wolves have been highly competitive in both outings so far and were perhaps unlucky not to have run-down Norths in the dying moments last Thursday night, but you would think their set-piece would have seen plenty of work this week. Tawa are the visitors, and they’ll be much happier after their win over MSP after the events of the previous week where they faltered against OBU.
Avalon make a handful of changes including returns for Pat Roil and Laman Ah Wong, with Pena Sione switching to No.8 from midfield with Victor Misa slotting in at #12. Tawa are without young standouts Siale Lauaki and Tofuka Paongo with their places being taken by Evan Bishop up front and Mofate Siuplou in the backs. Hemi Fermanis and TJ Ioane come into a heavyweight loose trio, and Mika Cooper-Finau is entrusted with running the ship.
One team that have been within a whisker of being unbeaten is Paremata-Plimmerton, who will be on a high after notching their first-ever Premier win over Ories a week ago after a rugged and determined effort from their forward pack. They’ll need to avoid complacency though, for no matter how out-of-sorts Poneke looks right now – and how much head scratching their head coach Reggie Goodes might have done so far this season – they could only be a moment away from finding the spark they need to get their season going
The home side lose their Hurricanes star Pasilio Tosi but he’s replaced by the vastly-experienced James Coburn who starts for his fourth Premier club. Tane McMillan-Parata returns to captain the side with Louis Northcott and Caleb Alaga given starting opportunities in the backs. Poneke have made wholesale changes following last week’s defeat, with only Sam Howling, Carlos Hihi, and Nick Robertson surviving the cull in the backline. Andrew Jones moves to blindside to accommodate debutant Manaaki Boyle-Tiatia, and James ‘Rockkit’ Mose makes his first appearance of the year at No.8.
Just down the road it’s the battle of the birds as the Johnsonville Hawks welcome the Hutt Old Boys Marist Eagles to the Helston roost. The home side will be the happier at this point of the season, having beating Poneke and then made things difficult for Petone last week. The pressure is already on HOBM though, as the trendy preseason Swindale pick of many are winless through two rounds after falling to Wainuiomata and then being completely dominated by OBU last Saturday.
The eye-opening inclusion in Johnsonville’s side is Olly Paotonu who lines up at 12 alongside Andy Ellis. Jack Taulapapa and Mark Sutton switch places from the opening round, and Adney Roebeck joins Anthony Pettett in the locking department. For HOBM, Ben Power starts in his third different position and makes – by our records at least – his first Premier start at tighthead. Teofilo Paulo, Jordan Gillies, and debutant Benjamin Tuiomanufili are additions to the pack while there’s a welcome return for Brandyn Laursen in the #10 jersey.
The last game in this part of the preview is the only game south of Ngauranga. Marist St Pat’s against Norths has long been one of the blockbuster matches of the season, and while this year’s edition at Evans Bay may not quite by the same as the battles of a decade ago it still has plenty riding on it even at this early juncture. MSP will be glad to be back home after being beaten by Tawa away last weekend, while Norths put their opening day troubles behind them with a battling win over Avalon last Thursday night.
The home side make a raft of changes, some of them enforced. Tui Tuiatua, Charlie Hankins, and Viliame Rarasea all come into their forward pack, Luke Donaldson starts at halfback, and a backline reshuffle gives debuts to teenage pair Jack O’Brien at centre and Francis Mettrick at fullback. Norths make just three changes to the side that started against Avalon. Boston Hunt comes in for Siauini Ulugia-Mao who limped out of that contest early but is on the bench, Callum Watts-Pointer returns at openside, and Zac Hunt gets a start on the right wing.
They also play for an interclub prize. The Maurice Standish Cup was first played for in 2018 and honours a man who was a Jubilee Cup winner as both a player and coach with MSP, played for pre-merger Titahi Bay and coached at Norths, and is hugely respected at both clubs. Norths are the holders after winning the corresponding match 34-26 last season.
As usual, all seven matches are 2.45pm starts.
Premier 2 Harper Lock Shield
No fewer than five teams have started their campaign with a pair of wins, and not only do any of those unbeaten teams face one of the others tomorrow they instead each face a side yet to win in 2023. Champions Tawa are at Fraser Park to face Avalon, Petone are at home against OBU, Poneke are out at Ngati Toa to take on Pare-Plim, Ories are at William Jones and Wainuiomata, and HOBM meet bottom-side Johnsonville at Helston.
The two remaining fixtures pit sides with one-win, one-loss records against each other as MSP hosts Norths at Evans Bay, and Stokes Valley head up the road to face the Upper Hutt Rams at Maidstone.
All seven matches are at their usual 1pm kickoff time.
Women’s Rebecca Liua’ana Trophy
After looking all out of sorts in the previous week’s preseason outing, Norths rebounded in a big way to beat Ories at Polo, and this week are back on home turf where they’ll face the combined HOBM/Wainui side at Porirua Park. Oriental Rongotai will need to rebound from that, but at home at Polo this week they’ll face a Petone side looking to prove their credentials after beating Marist St Pats last Saturday. MSP are also at home with Poneke making the walk across to Evans Bay, with the fourth match seeing a meeting of first-round winners as Avalon take to Fraser Park for the first time this year for the visit of Paremata-Plimmerton
All four matches get underway at 11.30am
Under 85kg JC Bowl
After a break over Easter, the lightweights return to action. The sole match between first-round winners is at Newlands Park where Johnsonville and Pare-Plim meet, while the other big winners from the opening week Poneke and OBU are at home on Kilbirnie against MSP and away against Eastbourne at HW Shortt respectively. Petone are off to Lyndhurst to face Tawa, Stokes Valley venture into the city to play Wellington at Hataitai, while Wests are scheduled to host HOBM at Ian Galloway.
All six matches are timed for 2.45pm.
The Colts grade has the week off as it coincides with the middle of the first set of university holidays, and we await both the season structure and draw to be confirmed.
The Reserve Grade gets underway this weekend with 13 teams entered representing the same number that finished last year. The Axemen have entered a side in 2023, but the news here is the absence of grade champions the Ories Vatos, meaning the silverware will be somewhere else at seasons end. The highlight match is at Nairnville Park between the OBU 69ers and Teddy Bears for their highly prized Ruru Shield.
The President’s Grade also gets started in their form of social combat, but its noticeable that the numbers here continue to decline as well.
In Horowhenua-Kapiti the feature match is between Rahui and defending champions Waikanae at the Otaki Domain, with the third unbeaten side – Levin COB – at home at the Domain against Foxton. The third match has winless pair Paraparaumu and Levin Wanderers meeting at the Paraparaumu Domain, with Shannon on the bye this round.
Over the hill, the Wairarapa-Bush senior competition starts with a three-round north-south split competition. In the northern half Eketahuna are at home against East Coast while Pioneer visit Marist, with southern fixtures seeing Greytown make the short journey to neighbours Carterton, and Gladstone hosting Martinborough.