Country invasion for finals showdown

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Steve Dowman used to play for Ruapehu but since buying a supermarket in Waverley he's wearing new colours. Photo/ Stuart Munro
Steve Dowman used to play for Ruapehu but since buying a supermarket in Waverley he's wearing new colours. Photo/ Stuart Munro

Today's the day the country comes to town ...
It's club rugby finals day at Cooks Gardens and in the premiership Border face off against Taihape while Marton tackle Ngamatapouri in the senior championship. Before the fan invasion, JOHN MASLIN and ZARYD WILSON checked the pre-match feeling in those heartland communities.


For small rural servicing towns like Waverley, rugby tradition runs as straight and true as State Highway 3 that is the town's main street.

There are some names in today's final a generation removed from team members who lifted the crown way back in 1980 when the club was playing as Waverley.

Waverley were champions that year and again in 1995 before they amalgamated with Patea rugby and moved into the Taranaki union as Border. That association ended in 2011 and Border moved back to Whanganui.

Since then it's been a beaten finalist twice ... and local business owner Barb Dallison echoes the sentiment of the locals when she says: "Maybe it's third time lucky".

On Thursday Mrs Dallison was busy taking bookings for the buses they're arranging to get supporters to Cooks Gardens for today's showdown with Taihape. By midday she had one bus filled and, with bookings open until late yesterday, she expected to fill a second one at least.

Her husband Brent was a member of Waverley's premiership winning team in 1980. He played along with other famous Waverley sons like Bruce Middleton and Dennis Koubaridis.

"The feeling around the village is huge - very big. It's really got the town together," Mrs Dallison said.

"This is a good little rugby town and I've been to a lot of rugby. Last year they got so close so this time maybe it's third time lucky."

Steve Dowman and his wife Rosie operate Waverley Four Square supermarket. They may have only been there since April but are already well entrenched in the community.

Last weekend's semifinal against Ruapehu was a bittersweet moment for Mr Dowman who used to play for Ruapehu and had his allegiances sorely tested.

"We had stands up in the store promoting the game and it included a fair amount of Ruapehu gear. We got a bit of ribbing for that but we've changed our stripes for Saturday's final," Mr Dowman said.

"We're newbies in town but there's no doubt they're passionate about their rugby in Waverley ... it's huge. There are a couple of things you soon notice when you move here and the first one is the rugby club."

Mr Dowman said finals were big for small communities like Waverley and Taihape.
"We haven't been here long but it's a great little town."

The Dowmans will be on the bus today - and Steve will be wearing the blue, black, white and yellow colours of Border.

There's much the same buzz about 150 kilometres up State Highway 1 where Taihape is preparing for an equally big day.

The club's putting on a 45-seater bus for supporters but that won't nearly fill the demand so a fair few cars will also make the trip.

"In six to eight hours the bus was full," committee and management team member Tracey Hiroa said.

As Taihape prepare to face Border, some shops are decked out in red, white and black and messages of support have been flooding in - even from overseas.

Taihape are proud of their team which is chasing its first title since Huia and Pirates combined.

"I suppose what it means is that you can't dismiss little places like us," Ms Hiroa said. "We are a homegrown team. Fundraising is something that we do every year, using the people that actually make up our club."

Last weeks semifinal drew the club's biggest crowd and momentum had been building all season.

"It's a huge deal for us - absolutely huge and the town is talking."

Meanwhile, in the senior final Marton take on Ngamatapouri and both teams have also captured the communities they represent.

Marton Rugby Club spokeswoman Alicia Coleman said they planned to have two buses heading to Cooks Gardens with support of all ages.

"We're hoping everybody turns up in blue and yellow. I know there are some people who are busy making banners, so it's quite exciting.

"In terms of our Facebook page, the response is just huge. People who we didn't realise were rugby supporters have been commenting and wishing the boys luck." Meanwhile, the quietly spoken members of the Ngamatapouri brigade are vying for a first title in the their second season since reforming.

And, despite being from the most sparsely populated area in the Wanganui union, the boys from deep in the Waitotara Valley won't be short of support, having had a strong travelling supporter base all season.

"There'll be a good contingent there - maybe a few cheerleaders if the promises come through," Ngamatapouri's Melody Wallace said.

She said the Boars' supporters will be decked out in team shirts for a match the settlement had been quietly looking forward to.

"We don't say a lot around here."

TODAY'S KICK OFF TIMES:
PREMIER CONSOLATION FINAL
Kaierau vs Pirates 11am
SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
Marton vs Ngamatapouri 12.45pm TASMAN TANNING PREMIER CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
Border vs Taihape 2.30pm
*All matches at Cooks Gardens

- Wanganui Chronicle

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