Rovers v Wairarapa
Park Island, Napier
Nothing gets Grant Hastings' goat more than talk about a season with little or nothing left to play for when in fact it's the contrary.
Sure, the Bluewater Napier City Rovers coach has no beef about accepting the third-round Chatham Cup campaign will end for them or archrivals Wairarapa United when their game kicks off at 2pm at Park Island, Napier, tomorrow.
But Hastings hastens to add, extending any similar sentiments to their Central League campaign are grossly inaccurate.
"We have nine points heading into the next round and we still have 27 points available so it's ridiculous to make comments like that," he says.
Wairarapa counterpart Phil Keinzley told Wairarapa Age Times on Monday: "Whoever loses this one doesn't have a lot to look forward to. It's a hell of a big game for both of us.
"Accuracy is going to be everything and so is discipline, you can bet they won't take any prisoners with their tackling. They'll look to get into our heads, the more they can upset our rhythm the better for them. It's not going to be a game for wimps," said the coach of the 2011 champions who refuses to speak to Hawke's Bay Today unless an apology is forthcoming following a report on the heels of 1-0 fourth-round loss in the cup campaign at Bluewater Stadium last year.
A shocked and shattered Wairarapa stable declined to make comments, with Keinzley demanding the newspaper call them the following day for remarks.
If nothing, that sort of attitude invariably sets the tone for clashes between the Central League campaigners.
"We've had that rivalry for years between the sides - not in a nasty sort of way but a calm-natured way," Hastings says, adding the teams share an affinity as non-Wellington outfits trying to clinch the Central League bragging rights from the capital city favourites such as Miramar Rangers and the "Greeks", Olympic.
"We [Rovers and Wairarapa] have contrasting styles, who both play a passing game but they are more direct and have a counterattacking style."
With a gut-wrenching 2-1 defeat in the cup final to Wairarapa in Palmerston North in 2011, the Blues have avenged losses in tit-for-tat fashion but tomorrow the visitors will be favourites by virtue of having beaten the Rovers 3-1 here in their first-round league clash.
"The third goal was almost the last kick of the game and we came back at them in the second half," Hastings says, emphasising striker Andy Bevin was only finding his feet. He's back in the team matrix after returning from his American college after a two-year hiatus following a failed London Olympics bid to make the Oly Whites squad under coach Neil Emblen.
"We've improved since then along the games and have more combinations to build pressure."
Rovers midfielder Harley Rodeka endorses Hastings' sentiments.
"Andy holds the ball up and makes those clinical runs pretty well," says the 25-year-old .
"He and [striker] Danny Wilson are working really well together up front," says Rodeka, after teenager Fane Morgan is out nursing an injury.
With three cup semifinals to his credit for his Dunedin team, Caversham United, Rodeka is enjoying his maiden season (including a 2-1 loss to the Blues here in 2011) with the Rovers after coach Chris Greatholder lured him north last summer for Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United's historic ASB Premiership campaign in making the playoff for the first time in the history of the national league.
Believing the Adam Cowan-captained Wairarapa are a "decent side", the winger says the Central League loss last month was expected because they were still tinkering with their structure.
"This time we're more organised so we know how to stop them playing.
"We definitely have a good chance of beating them," says the man who has scored two goals so far in Central League this season and wants nothing more than to find the net a few more times.
So why didn't Rodeka return home to Dunedin after summer?
"I didn't feel like I wanted to go back home so soon," he says.
Besides, with flatmate and English import defender Aaron Jones staying behind the Dunedinite didn't think twice.
"We've been getting along well so I thought why not stay but not wanting to go back south so soon was probably the main reason."
Having returned from visiting his family in Dunedin last week, Rodeka appreciates the balmy winter in the Bay when juxtaposed with the "freezing conditions" in the south.
He is also enjoying the camaraderie with non-Bay United players in the Blues squad.
Needless to say, he finds the Central League competition better compared with the southern one.
"A lot more teams are stronger here whereas in the south only 2 or 3 are competitive so over here anyone can win it."
While Hastings and 2012 Hawke's Bay Coach of the Year Greatholder have contrasting styles of coaching, Rodeka didn't have any difficulties adjusting from summer to winter.
"I just had to know where and how Grant wanted me to play and I just adjusted to fit in."
With Keinzley's disclosure, it appears a United Nations-looking Wairarapa are channelling their energy on lifting the cup while using the league to experiment with players and combinations.
For example, will George Jermy replace Frenchman Charles-Francois Mallman as striker or will Cowan, who looked uncomfortable as centreback in the league clash here, move to the wing?