The Whanganui men will go hunting their second Hockey Manawatu title this season after locking in their berth for the Premier Group B final after a 5-3 win over College B at the Twin Turfs on Saturday.
Already the Premier Reserve champions, Whanganui's win took them to a 4-2 record in Group B to secure second place after top qualifier High School Hockey Club A (5-1), but more importantly, they will receive automatic qualification back into Premier for the start of the 2020 season.
That is unless, as senior player Calum Wilbur pointed out, the goal posts get moved on Whanganui again – as they did at the start of this year, when Whanganui were relegated to Premier Reserve to allow Palmerston North Boys High to take the last spot in the new-look six team Premier grade.
HSHC A picked up a 3-2 win over PNBHS on Saturday to ensure Whanganui would have made the final no matter what the result of their last game.
But the visitors didn't know that at three quarter time at the Twin Turfs, as their season-long problem of maintaining control in the period after halftime again manifested itself, this time to the extreme.
All had been going well to begin with, as Whanganui took a 3-0 lead into halftime, after Tony Gilbertson opened the scoring after a tap in to an open goal following a breakaway, then a returning Lee Moir made a reverse stick shot where the College B keeper had been standing a second before.
James Craig gave them further breathing space with his shot taking a deflection off a defender into the goal.
But from a comfortable perch, Whanganui found themselves deadlocked 3-3 going into the final period.
"Not a lot of chat, I think everyone knew they'd lost their heads a little bit," said Wilbur.
"All three of their goals were really quite soft."
Madder and Baker in the NZ Under 18's
Hockey: Understrength Whanganui men lose to HSHC A in Manawatu
Whanganui had been guilty of running when they shouldn't or letting off bad passes.
Regaining their shape, they pulled the match out with two goals by the talented Travis Bayler inside the last five minutes.
"[College B] had a very strong team on the field," said Wilbur.
"Eight out of the 16 have been involved at some point when we played them [College A] last year in Premier."
Whanganui must now figure out the formula to beat the only team that has defeated them this year, with HSHC A picking up 5-3 and 3-0 wins in July.
They will be without Craig Ritani (wedding anniversary), while Josh McDonnell (hamstring injury) still remains unlikely.
"Otherwise, it should be all hands on deck," said Wilbur.
"But it will need a much improved performance."
The Whanganui Women's season ended in their Premier Women's semifinal against the undefeated College A, who were taking no chances against a plucky underdog side that had managed a draw against them this year, shooting accurately for a 7-0 win.
Fielding a strong lineup that included former Black Stick Kayla Whitelock, NZ Under-18s coach Verity Sharland, and Whanganui's expat Junior Black Emma Rainey, College moved the ball well and most importantly finished off.
Whanganui captain Colleen Baylis said they had their fair share of opportunities from penalty corners and strokes, but could not find a way through.
"I don't know how HSHC A are going to stop them [in the final].
"We went down there with 14 players and ended up with 12.
"But I don't feel it hindered us, because the players we had stepped up."
Lucy Tui gave another committed performance on defence, while goalie Sienna King ensured the scoreboard did not blow out any further.