Memo to Hastings acting mayor Sandra Hazelhurst: Give the Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV rugby side a parade around the city.
Captain Kianu Kereru-Symes and his troops deserve one in the wake of yesterday's 25-17 win against Hamilton Boys' High School in the National Top Four final played in windy conditions at the Sport and Rugby Institute in Palmerston North. This is the first time Hastings have won this title and it is just as significant as the Hawke's Bay Magpies 2013 Ranfurly Shield win against Otago which resulted in parades in Napier and Hastings.
With their victory, Hastings completed a 21-game unbeaten run for the season. They also produced the New Zealand Secondary Schools player-of-the-year in winger Kini Naholo, who with his opening try of the match in the first minute took his try tally for the season to 41.
"We love each other. We treat each other like brothers," Naholo told the post-final media scrum.
That quote summed up the brotherhood within the squad and "relieved" manager Jason Bird elaborated on it.
"These boys don't like losing. Their pride in their school as well as the person to the left or right of them is second to none."
Bird pointed out he was particularly delighted for the 18 players who returned after losing last year's final 14-13 to Mount Albert Grammar.
"They fought off a lot of demons because there were so many expectations for them to go all the way," Bird added.
As he has done so often this season, outstanding Hastings No8 Devan Flanders captured the player-of-the-match award.
"This is unbelievable. The boys have worked so hard for this and it finally paid off," Flanders said afterwards.
Kereru-Symes, who also captained the team last year, praised the manner in which their opponents got the better of them on a few times at the breakdown.
"I know how the Hamilton boys feel. But we didn't want to be in that position again," he said before the team was saluted in appropriate fashion with a powerful rendition of the popular Ngati Kahungunu haka Tika Tonu from fellow students and old boys.
As expected, the two sides which shared the Super 8 title produced a thrilling, closely fought final. Hamilton replied to Naholo's try with a fourth minute penalty to first five-eighth Coby Miln and took the lead with a 14th minute try to winger Joshua Calvert after 19 phases of relentless pressure.
Another Miln penalty in the 19th minute had Hamilton ahead 11-5 and he kicked another in the 28th minute. A penalty from fullback Danny Toala had Hastings trailing 14-8 in the 31st minute.
Halfback Shamara Brooks, who did an admirable job as a replacement for the injured Folau Fakatava, scored a clever try in the 34th minute which Toala converted to have Hastings ahead 15-14 at halftime.
Substitute outside back Fletcher Morgan put Hamilton back in front with a 44th minute penalty. Hastings regained the lead with a Toala penalty in the 47th minute to lead 18-17.
With two minutes remaining, powerful prop Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe beat three defenders as he charged over for a try with Toala's support to give Toala an easy conversion attempt and their school a memorable slice of New Zealand rugby history.
"When Josiah scored that try, it was an awesome feeling. But like Jason [Bird] said, it was more a feeling of relief. I was just so proud of the manner in which the boys kept their shape," head coach Tafai Ioasa said.
All 23 players in the squad deserve praise for the joy they brought Hawke's Bay rugby fans this season. The Hastings scrum was superb yesterday and so was the combination between hooker Miracle Lolofie and lock Tane Hohipa at lineout time in the challenging conditions.
First five-eighth Lincoln McClutchie controlled the tempo well and impressed with his options. Expect the likes of Flanders, Toala, McClutchie and at least three others to be named in the New Zealand Secondary Schools trial teams during the coming weeks.
Heartstopper: Hastings fullback Danny Toala missed a relatively easy penalty attempt by his own high standards in the eighth minute. Fortunately it didn't prove the difference when the final whistle blew.
-Turning point: When prop Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe charged through three defenders with Toala's assistance to score the final try of the game in the 68th minute. This thriller was so close for so long.
-Player of the match: Outstanding Hastings No 8 Devan Flanders. As he has been all season ... powerful on the carry, tireless on defence and intelligent with all options.
-Scorers: Hastings Boys' High School 25 (Kini Naholo, Shamara Brooks, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe tries; Danny Toala 2 pens, 2 cons), Hamilton Boys' High School 17 (Joshua Calvert try; Coby Miln 3 pens, Fletcher Morgan pen). HT: 15-14.