Taradale guaranteed a defence of Hawke's Bay rugby Premier first-round trophy the Nash Cup with a comfortable win over Havelock North on Saturday.
The 50-24 win on Taradale's home ground at Tareha Reserve gave the maroons a fourth win in five Pool 1 matches, enough to take them into the final next Saturday against Hastings Rugby and Sports, who completed Pool 2 unbeaten with a 34-17 home win over Clive at Elwood Park, Hastings.
There were encouraging home-match results for two of the perennial triers of Premier rugby ahead of the 8-team Maddison Trophy championship which starts on May 15, with Tamatea beating Napier Pirate 42-14 in Hastings and Central beating Napier Tech Old Boys 30-24 in Waipukurau.
Tamatea have won the Maddison Trophy just once, back in the inter-city days of 1983, and in the 33 years of the Hawke's Bay-wide competition with playoffs, has reached the semifinals just twice, in 2003 and 2005. Central have reached the semifinals only once, in 2007.
In Saturday's other match Napier Old Boys Marist had a 55-33 win over MAC in Flaxmere.
It was a good day for the try-scorers with nine by Napier OBM, eight to Taradale and seven from Tamatea, and losing sides and losing sides MAC, Napier Tech and Havelock North each earning four-try bonuses, as superfluous as they were in the final count, one by MAC halfback John Ika giving him six for the season and to make him the top try-scorer in the Nash Cup to date.
But of the 52 tries, just 27 were converted, Havelock North's Trinity Neera-Spooner scoring just four points for his side but becoming the leading points-scorer with 46, more than half of his side's total to date.
With the intervention of the Covid-19 crisis, Taradale have held the cup since it was last contested in 2019, but were beaten by Hastings in last year's Maddison Trophy final.
While Hastings had secured their Nash Cup final place with a crossover-match win the previous weekend, Taradale needed another victory to stay in front of Napier Old Boys Marist.
Opponents in eight Maddison Trophy finals and three semifinals since the championships went Hawke's Bay-wide in 1988, village sides Taradale and Havelock North faced a radically different on Saturday, with Taradale hot favourites and Havelock North finishing pool play without a win and having a week earlier been consigned to a new second division for the remainder of the season.
Taradale had to overcome plenty of early enthusiasm from the young and rebuilding Havelock North side and, after a 7-all deadlock and then being down five points, took the lead with their second converted try late in the second quarter. By halftime they were well in charge up 31-12.
Hastings were also in charge by halftime of its match, with four tries and a 22-0 lead, and are expected to host the final at Elwood Park next Saturday, with other Premier sides expected to take a week off.
While Old Boys Marist found MAC a bit to handle until well into the second half, the scores being tied twice before the Napier side pulled away in the last quarter in a good shakedown before starting a Maddison Trophy campaign aimed at winning the championship for the fourth time in six years.
MAC conceded two converted tries in the 19-minute-absence of sin-binned Everard Reid.
The return of former Magpies loosie Nui Bartlett as coach of Tamatea, after seven years in Queensland, was one of the telling factors of the weekend's games, as his side claimed a third win and a fourth bonus point.
It was a good launching pad for the Maddison Trophy competition, with a much-yearned weekend off for player recovery, also a relief to Pirate coach Andy Lord as he starts to plan his club's way back to the top grade.
Much like its glory days of the early 1980s, the whanau links at Tamatea are huge – Bartlett counts six nephews and five cousins among a team in which most started their rugby with the club's children's grades, and now has the "influence" from the successful Hastings Boys' High first XVs of the last few years.
Central's win, capping a club-record 250th Premier match for 39-year-old forward pack rock Warwick Slingsby, was also a sign of things to come.
Havelock North, the most successful Maddison Trophy club over the past three decades, and Napier Pirate, winners of the trophy as recently as 2015, now join a new eight-team second division competition, named Division 1.
They joining six Town and Country grade sides - Premier Reserve teams Napier OBM, Napier Tech OB, and Taradale and previous Division 2 sides Maraenui, Aotea, and Otane – the top two clubs without Maddison Trophy sides chasing promotion back to Premier for the Nash Cup round in 2022.
Maraenui and Napier OBM play Saturday's Town pool final and Dannevirke side Aotea plays Otane in the Country pool final.