The small town of Katikati was buzzing on Saturday as Bay of Plenty, Counties Manukau and Wellington's Mitre 10 Cup squads came to town. The three teams played in the Game of Three Halves as part of their preseason preparations before the championship kicks off this weekend. While hosting the event itself was an exciting prospect, news broke during the week that All Black Sonny Bill Williams would be in attendance with Counties Manukau. Locals flocked to the Katikati Rugby Club grounds to support their team and get a glimpse of the global superstar.While many eyes were on All Black Sonny Bill Williams in Katikati on Saturday, for Bay of Plenty, Counties Manukau and Wellington coaches it was the final opportunity to see their players in action before naming their Mitre 10 Cup squads this week.
The Game of Three Halves format saw the teams each play 40 minutes against each other. In the first game Wellington came from behind to beat the Bay of Plenty Wasps - the Steamers' wider training squad - 24-15.
In the second game, Williams and Counties battled out a 5-all draw with Wellington. In the third and final match of the day, Bay of Plenty romped home to a 31-0 win over Counties.
Bay of Plenty Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan said it was great to get out in one of the smaller areas of the region.
"It's great for the community that we could put on a game of three halves and I think the ones that came along today got a real spectacle from all three 40s so I'm really happy we could do that for them.
"[The format] has its pros and cons. We had two split 40s, playing the first and last, which is probably not ideal. We did some good stuff in the first half and it would've been nice to go straight into the second. But again, there were pros, everyone got a run today, got decent minutes."
McMillan said there were lots of positives to take from the way the team played on Saturday, meaning he would have some tough decisions to make when naming his final squad this week.
"The scoreboard in the last game looked impressive but I was equally impressed with the way we played in that first game against Wellington. They were pretty windy conditions, we played into that, and I was really impressed with the style of rugby that we played.
"We maintained the ball for long periods of time, we put them under a lot of pressure and scored some good tries.
"There are lots of decisions to make, we obviously need to see how everyone bounces back from today. We have a few niggles, particularly in our backs so that's a bit of a concern."
He was confident that whoever was named in the squad would have the full support of all involved.
"We're a pretty tight bunch, the boys know there's competition for places and competition is healthy. We've got some hard decisions to make this week and there will be some disappointed people next week but it's a long season - we know as well as any that you need a squad of 35-plus to do any good."
Bay of Plenty community rugby manager Pat Rae said the Game of Three Halves was great for the Katikati community as well as the teams involved.
"I think all three teams have been able to get out of it what they wanted. They've been able to test themselves in tough conditions and it looks like all three sides have had an opportunity to play with the wind and against the wind.
"It's a great opportunity to get more than one team at a venue and those teams leading into the Mitre 10 cup get an opportunity to try some combinations, it really is their last chance before next week's kickoff.
"The local Katikati crowd has really supported the day, it's great for the region. Having Sonny Bill Williams in the Counties team has obviously drawn a few more people."
He said Katikati residents were passionate about rugby and it was typical of them to get behind an event like the Game of Three Halves.
"The Katikati community is a really strong rugby community. Their local senior men's team was unlucky in the Division Two senior final, they had such a strong season all year and unfortunately fell at the last hurdle."
Game of Three Halves Results
Wellington 24 Bay of Plenty 15
Wellington 5 Counties Manukau 5
Counties Manukau 0 Bay of Plenty 31