The Bay of Plenty Steamers have been flying high in 2019. They finished the Mitre 10 Cup Championship round robin atop the table with eight wins and just two losses, taking down some Premiership contenders in crossover games in the process. Now, in the lead-up to the home semifinal against Manawatu at Rotorua International Stadium on Friday night , sports reporter David Beck runs his eye over the season so far, picking out the best moments, biggest disappointments and most impressive performances.
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Player (and back) of the Year - Chase Tiatia
No prizes for guessing this one - Tiatia is undoubtedly having the season of his life. An argument could be made for the forwards - they have been dominant this season and have provided the likes of Tiatia with the ball he needs to shine. However, it still has to be Tiatia. Everything he has touched this year has turned to gold, his performances not only giving his side an edge but also thrilling the fans. It is no coincidence he leads the race for the Duane Monkley Medal - awarded to the best player in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Forward of the Year - Mitch Karpik
If you've watched a Steamers game this year, you've seen a lot of Mitch Karpik. The man is everywhere. Like any good openside flanker, Karpik gets through a mountain of work every game ensuring his presence is sorely missed whenever he is unavailable. Not only does he make a menace of himself at the breakdown, you can always count on him as a support runner - he has been rewarded with several tries this year through never giving up on the play. A key cog in the Chiefs forward pack and in the Māori All Blacks, his experience has been vital this season.
Disappointment of the Year - young duo cut down by injury
Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan and his team have worked hard during the last few years to improve the depth of the squad. One of the ways they have done this has been improving the pathway for the region's young rugby stars. Two of those are Kaleb Trask and Cole Forbes, teammates in the Jock Hobbs Memorial winning Bay of Plenty Under-19s last year.
Trask had some decent game time for the Steamers at the end of last year and looked to have cemented his spot after returning from a leg injury a few weeks into this season. Unfortunately, he broke his jaw attempting to tackle Manawatu's Ngani Laumape a few weeks ago, ending his season. Forbes was making his first start for the side against Northland in September when, after some great touches, he suffered a season-ending injury. They were not the Steamers' only serious injuries this year but the fact that they are two of the region's most exciting young talents made it harder to take.
Game of the Year - Battle of the Bays Blowout
For Bay of Plenty fans, there is no better feeling than claiming bragging rights as "the real Bay". When the Steamers hosted the Hawke's Bay Magpies on September 28, they did not just win, they hammered the men from the inferior Bay. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and the Bay of Plenty fans who packed Tauranga Domain were thrilled to see their side race to a 31-0 lead at halftime with five simply sublime tries. Hawke's Bay can be commended for their fight back in the second half but the Steamers held them out for a 51-24 win. We could well see a rematch between the two sides in the Championship final, a tantalising prospect.