They are the bogey team.

When you win three Meads Cup championships in a row, while setting all kinds of team and individual player records, there are plenty more good days than bad, which is what makes Steelform Wanganui's recent record against the 2017 Lochore Cup winners Mid Canterbury stand out all the more, ahead of the current No1 vs No3 game on Saturday.

The Ashburton team was the only Mitre 10 Heartland Championship loss in 2017 which Wanganui could not avenge, as they went on to get payback over other vanquishers South Canterbury and Horowhenua Kapiti in the Meads Cup playoffs.

Mid Canterbury blowing a 23-point lead against Buller in the seventh round proved costly, because although they won their last pool game, finishing in a three-way tie with West Coast and Wanganui saw the Meads Cup holders get through on points differential.


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The Cantabrians took their frustrations out on Poverty Bay and then West Coast with big wins in the Lochore Cup playoffs to claim that trophy.

Mid Canterbury have in fact now beaten Wanganui in their last three meetings in pool matches – 2014-15 and 2017 – with the last two being heartbreaking defeats after the fulltime whistle.

A converted try three minutes into injury time sunk Wanganui 30-28 on the last occasion the sides played at Cooks Gardens, a result which spurred Wanganui on to later beat Mid Canterbury 26-11 in the 2015 Meads Cup semifinal in Ashburton.

Last year in Ashburton, Wanganui had come back from 31-12 down to lead 39-37 with time up, only to watch Mid Canterbury first-five Jarred Percival land a stunning 45m penalty into the wind for his eighth straight successful kick that day.

Understandably, Wanganui coach Jason Caskey was not eager to dredge up recent history, although that doesn't mean the 2018 Mid Canterbury squad will be slept on by any means.

"They're always pretty serious [games], but it's a new year. Last year doesn't count for much," said Caskey.

"It's all in our court, really.

"They're always a dangerous team and never far [off]. In contention all the time."

Caskey also remembers that this middle portion of the round robin is where Wanganui nearly unravelled last year with back-to-back losses to both Canterbury teams.

"There aren't too many easy ones.

"You think this week is a test, but then the next one [King Country] is a test."

Caskey is sticking with the starting front row which did the job against Poverty Bay, with Kamipeli Latu back training after missing the Gisborne match and bracketed on the bench with Viki Tofa.

Having also withdrawn after his wife went into labour to deliver his son overnight last Friday, winger Cameron Crowley will finally play his comeback from August's Ranfurly Shield game.

Caskey acknowledges that given his family pedigree, Crowley Jr might just be odds-on becoming a fourth generation Wanganui rugby representative.

"There'd be a good chance of it, isn't there? You never know which way kids are going to go ... but let's hope so."

Jamie Hughes also returns to the coveted openside flanker role with Angus Middleton moving back to the bench.

"Really happy with both of them, Angus got banged up, stomped on his calf muscle [last week]. We're sure he'll be right to play," said Caskey.

"They offer us heaps with slightly different skill sets."

Jamie Hughes returns from the bench to openside flanker.
Jamie Hughes returns from the bench to openside flanker.

Auckland import Michael Tafili will get his first start in the Wanganui jumper, with Caskey hoping to get a strong 55 minutes out of him before handing over to Middleton or Tremaine Gilbert.

"He just needs game time really, that's the big thing for him now."

While Wanganui have ultimately had safe winning margins so far, Mid Canterbury are more than used to tight finishes, having beaten Horowhenua Kapiti 30-24 in Foxton, lost to North Otago 34-33 in Ashburton after a successful kick on fulltime, before rebounding with a 36-29 win over West Coast in Ashburton last Saturday.

Coach Sean Carter introduced 12 new players to his team this year – like Caskey he is bringing in youngsters to learn alongside the veterans.

Any team with Jackson Donlan, Eric Duff and Seta Koroitamana in the forward pack must be respected.

As well as Percival (Christchurch Old Boys), the short drive to Ashburton means Mid Canterbury can always tap handy imports, like reserve forward Tom Blyth, fullback Don Fransen and No 8 Aaron Einnarson.

Despite Percival's success with the boot last year, second five Andrew Letham is the team's current preferred goal kicker.

The teams are
1. Gabriel Hakaraia; 2. Jack Yarrall; 3. Wiremu Cottrell; 4. Sam Madams; 5. Henri Williams; 6. Campbell Hart (c); 7. Jamie Hughes; 8. Michael Tafili; 9. Lindsay Horrocks; 10. Dane Whale; 11. Cameron Crowley; 12. Penijamini Nabainivalu; 13. Kaveni Dabenaise; 14. Harry Symes; 15. Craig Clare.
Reserves – Forwards: 16 Dylan Gallien; 17. Kamipeli Latu/Viki Tofa; 18. Tremaine Gilbert; 19. Angus Middleton. Backs: 20. Ethan Robinson; 21. Tyler Rogers-Holden; 22. Shandon Scott.

Mid Canterbury
1. Tom Heywood; 2. Jackson Donlan (c); 3. Matt Groom; 4. Matt Bentley; 5. Eric Duff; 6. Angus Lindsay; 7. Seta Koroitamana; 8. Aron Einnarson; 9. Will Mackenzie; 10. Jarred Percival; 11. Brian Matormusha; 12. Andrew Letham; 13. Tom Hanham-Carter; 14. Timoci Nabakeke; 15. Dan Fransen.
Reserves: 16. Leauma Tu Uga; 17. Penisamani Fakatoka; 18. Tom Blyth; 19. Shepherd Mhembere; 20. Tyler Blackburn; 21. Isireli Masiwini; 22. Nathan McCloy.

* * * *

Meanwhile, it will be a big Saturday of rugby at Cooks Gardens with two curtain raiser matches before the 2.30pm kickoff between Steelform Wanganui and Mid Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship.

At 11.15am, the Wanganui Under 18 Girls team will take on Manawatu Under 18, then at 12.45pm, the Air Chathams Wanganui U18 Boys meet Wellington Samoan U18.

Both Wanganui U18 teams are coming off wins at the weekend, with the boys beating East Coast while the girls downed Horowhenua Kapiti.

Also, the Wanganui Samoa rugby team will play in the High Commissioners Cup final on September 15.

Top qualifier Hawke's Bay Samoa got the win over Manawatu Samoa in the final pool match last Saturday to progress unbeaten.

Wanganui Samoa hammered Horowhenua Kapiti Samoa 66-0, lost to Hawke's Bay Samoa 60-10, then beat Manawatu Samoa 22-16 with a try on fulltime.