If rugby is a religion — and for many of us it is, then making it to the finals in the Bay Wide competition is the Holy Grail — or the taonga in the jewel of our club rugby crown.
Up and down the land of the long white try line there will be little and large clubrooms lighting up the hangi fires, knocking off a kuni kuni and peeling the spuds, in preparation for the after-match kai to celebrate a season — win, lose or draw.
The road to finals day is paved with yarns of yesteryear. Each winning kick grows a yard or two, and each try-saving tackle by a no neck prop has an extra elbow added. And, as each Saturday passes and the top four teams make their way into finals footy the photos up on the clubrooms wall are brought to life, by the honour each chosen player who puts on their beloved club jersey on finals day is given, for getting their team to the Holy Grail moment.
This last week had more magical sporting moments for me than any I have read or written about in my career as a columnist come journalistic hack.
It started on Wednesday with mate against mate at Olympic Stadium in Sydney where we witnessed — in my opinion, the greatest-ever State of Origin, and ended at 4am yesterday with — again in my opinion, our greatest world cup sporting moment ever.
Tucked in between was for me the real deal and why we had to make it back home from Ngāt Skippy land for our club finals.
It was a 4am arrival home and worth every blink of a sleepless Saturday because 11 short hours later came the Hail Mary moment at Māramatanga Park.
The atmosphere was electric with more flags than a seabed and foreshore protest march.
The development team had laid down a perfect platform with a commanding win to have them marching towards a blue and black finals day on their home turf.
It was all or nothing for the coaches, players, supporters, believers and whānau from every corner of the motu who had come to tautoko Te Puna against the gutsy Gurnards from G Town.
Seventy-eight minutes of historical, hysterical never-ever-give-up rugby.
Then came the Holy Grail magic moment. In American Football folklore they call it the Hail Mary Pass.
The "Hail Mary" pass: That last second, long-shot attempt for a losing football team to come from behind and win the game.
Te Puna had less than 2 minutes to firstly gain the ball back from the kick-off after Greerton had scored what was to many the winning try. Not an easy task in itself but brilliantly executed by the off-the-bench replacement and cuzzie of the coach "Roy Boy" Kuka. Then, once he had it tucked under his arm, the blue and black army marched towards Greerton's goal line.
The crowd went wild as the clock ticked down. One simple mistake and it was all over. Possession was precious; it was everything to hold on to the ball and cradle it like a newborn baby. Carry after carry, the clock ticked down — and then it stopped.
There was no more of anything but a miracle and a Hail Mary karakia left in the tank.
Total silence as the cradled ball was dropped on to the left boot of the raven red-headed Reece Macdonald, first-five for Te Puna.
You could have heard a poi drop as the hopes of an entire community headed towards the upright open arms of the Te Puna goal post.
Many of us could feel the wairua of our tūpuna (ancestors) guiding the golden boot of the ginger-headed genius home.
Then it started like a karanga calling out to the faithful believers. A wave of emotion only ever seen when our ancestors are in the house – off the photo wall and on the field, and they were.
The Blue and Black bravehearts had brought the finals home for the first time in the 100-year history of the club.
The Greerton Gurnards were gallant in defeat; they put more pressure on Te Puna than a pit full of hot hangi stones — fired upon blood, sweat, belief and deservedly a few emotionally charged tears afterwards.
"Reece Lightning" had struck, and it sent shock waves of jubilation and disbelief across Māramatanga Park.
This is why we love the game and will be back again come Saturday's final against Tauranga Sports.
Yes, rugby is a religion, and many of us believe in it beyond what happens on the field.
It's the glue that keeps our community together. We call our clubrooms the fifth marae. It carries the hopes and dreams of all of our community — both Māori and non-Māori. It is our Tūrangawaewae — our place to stand and celebrate our successes.
Our place to catch a Hail Mary moment and put in our pocket for future generations to share.
Tommy Kapai Wilson is a local writer and best-selling author. He first started working for the Bay of Plenty Times as a paperboy in 1966 and has been a columnist for 15 years. Tommy is currently the executive director of Te Tuinga Whānau, a social service agency committed to the needs of our community. email@example.com