It's obvious Napier Old Boys Marist premier rugby team captain and loosie Chris Johnston pays more attention to his side's needs than the MVP leaderboard.

Despite taking a four-point lead into the final round of judging for the McDonald's-Hawke's Bay Today Club Rugby Player of the Year award Johnston was surprised to hear he had won it this week. With another three points courtesy of a player-of-the-match display in WIT Napier Old Boys Marist's 69-29 drubbing of Altherm Window Systems Napier Technical at Park Island on Saturday Johnston, 26, won the award by six points from MAC loosie Solomone Funaki.

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"It's a bit of a surprise and, while I'm stoked, helping the boys win a third consecutive Maddison Trophy title is far more important than any individual awards," Johnston said.


His NOBM head coach, Craig Gowler, provided another hint for Johnston that the award was coming his way when at the weekend he described him as the most inspirational footy player he has seen for a long time. A livestock agent for PGG Wrightson, Johnston missed the compliment as he was checking out the comings and goings on his team's lengthy injury list.

Eleven players, including seven regular starters, were unavailable for the defending champions match against the Texans.

"We're a bit bashed up but come Saturday we'll have a team to give it a good go," Johnston said referring to this weekend's Tui Maddison Trophy semifinal against Taradale Rugby and Sports at Tareha Recreation Reserve.

The Tauranga Boys College old boy missed the Green Machine's 37-31 loss to Taradale four weeks ago with an injury.

"We're looking forward to a bit of redemption. They've got a big side which dominated us at the breakdown in that loss. I've got to try to put a stop to that," Johnston said.

This weekend will be the fourth time the two teams have met this season. During the Nash Cup NOBM posted a 67-18 thrashing during the round robin and an 89-7 walloping in the semifinal.

Despite these wins Johnston said Taradale will be the favourites on Saturday.

"For a change we will be the complete underdogs. Taradale started the season as one of the favourites because of the manner in which they recruited. Then they upset Hastings at the weekend ... they have to be favourites.


"There's going to be a big atmosphere on their home turf. We've had a bit of experience in semifinal rugby and know a lot of pressure comes with it. Both teams can do the business. We have to get out there and do it ... we can only control the controllables," Johnston said.

There's an extra incentive for Johnston to help the visitors win on Saturday and book a final spot. He is still battling for a Magpies Mitre 10 Cup squad contract.

"I had 50 minutes in the pre-season win against Manawatu earlier this month. If I'm needed I'll be happy to play in the pre-season games against Waikato and Manawatu next month."

While winning the MVP award doesn't guarantee a contract the emphatic manner in which Johnston has combined with the form he has produced on a regular basis at club level must put him close. On Saturday he is likely to mark another openside flanker chasing a contract in Taradale's Nathan Tweedy.

This tussle will have significant impact on the outcome of the semifinal. It could also decide who earns a contract and who doesn't in three weeks time.
Best & Fairest
NOBM v Napier Technical: 3, Chris Johnston (NOBM); 2, Willie Benson (NOBM); 1, Shae Tucker (NOBM).
Havelock North v Central: 3, Trent Hape (Havelock); 2, Travis Taylor (Central); 1, Paea Taulanga (Havelock).
Taradale v Hastings: 3, Angelo Mufana (Taradale); 2, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe (Hastings); 1, Andrew Gardner (Taradale).
Clive v Tamatea: 3, Rocky Pohatu (Clive); 2, JJ Taulagi (Clive); 1, Mason Kean (Tamatea).
Pirate v MAC: 3, Solomone Funaki (MAC); 2, Damien Scott (Pirate); 1, Johnny Ika (MAC).
Final standings: 17 points: Chris Johnston (NOBM). 11: Solomone Funaki (MAC). 10: Hannon Brighouse (NOBM), Pouri Rakete-Stones (Pirate), Mason Kean (Tamatea), Johnny Ika (MAC). 8: Aleki Vuki, Timo Vaiusu (both Hastings), Angelo Mufana, Nathan Tweedy (both Taradale), JJ Taulagi (Clive), Tom Parsons, Jason Cutbush (both Central), Lincoln McClutchie (Tamatea).