It was a very interesting 48 hours in Hockey Manawatu's Premier Group B last week, as the Whanganui men picked up back-to-back wins to get a share of top of the table after one round.
Getting to join title favourite High School Hockey Club A at the head of the standings with a two-win, one-loss record, although still second on differential, came about when winless Palmerston North Boys High came back from losing 3-2 to Whanganui on Thursday evening to shock HSHC A 2-1 on Saturday afternoon.
At the same time, Whanganui disposed of College B, who had been promoted alongside them from Premier Reserve, by a comfortable 8-2 margin at McDonald's Stadium in their last home game of 2019.
Whanganui have already picked up one trophy this year for an unbeaten Premier Reserve campaign, but had a setback coming into Premier Group B with an opening 5-3 loss to HSHC A, who had been unlucky to be relegated from the top tier, alongside PNBHS.
Therefore, PNBHS pulling off the upset throws the cat amongst the pigeons somewhat in Whanganui's quest to be promoted back into Premier for 2020, after feeling they were hard done by to be relegated at the expense of the Manawatu schoolboys at the start of the year, following the reformatting of the grades.
After the second round of Premier Group B games, the top two teams will automatically qualify for Premier next season, while then playing a straight championship final.
"It's anybody's at this stage, which is a shame because, if PNBHS had lost [to HSHC A], they would have been out of it," said Whanganui senior player Callum Wilbur.
"Now they play College B, who will win that. And we've got to play them all again in Palmerston North."
The reason Wilbur is adamant PNBHS can't make it back-to-back wins this Saturday is because school tournament commitments will take away virtually their whole 1st XI, meaning second-tier players will have to fill in for the club fixture.
Whanganui have a similar predicament in their return away game against HSHC A.
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"Collegiate have an away weekend, so all [our] Collegiate boys are away."
Whanganui had all hands on deck on Saturday, and found College B not much stronger than the team they beat 6-0 in Premier Reserve, although the visitors did close the gap to 4-2 in the third quarter.
"Fairly comfortable in the first half," said Wilbur.
Josh McDonnell scored off a deflection, while James Craig attacked from open play to find the back of the goal.
Dominating the set-piece, Whanganui got two goals from short corners, with Wilbur connecting with a straight strike while Matt Forward made a drag flick.
However, from 4-0 at halftime, Whanganui saw their lead cut down to two heading into the final quarter.
"We were a little bit nervous, only to go back to how we played in the first half," said Wilbur.
"We were attacking nicely, the build-up of play coming up the field was very, very good.
"It's just our defending is a little bit shoddy at the moment."
Jacob Moorehouse scored in open play, while Forward got his double from another drag flick off a short corner, and McDonnell got two more goals to raise his hat-trick.
"All of them deflections — two off corners and one in open play," said Wilbur.
The big win was a welcome tonic from the PNBHS game on Thursday, a home match Whanganui had been looking forward to all season to prove a point about their ousting from Premier at the start of the year.
Even though they were not used to playing under lights, while PNBHS had players coming back sharpened from both the Central and Manawatu Under 18 teams following national tournament week, Whanganui were feeling confident.
"It was much closer than we would have hoped," said Wilbur.
Whanganui trailed 1-0 and then 2-1, with both of the visitors' goals coming from "questionable defence".
"We had a lot more of the ball than they did, and I think they scored on both their [only] shots on goal," said Wilbur.
Craig got the first equaliser after getting a turnover inside Manawatu's goal area, then Chad Warner brought it back to 2-2, before Forward scored what proved the match-winner.
Whanganui's standout performer was Patrick Madder, coming back from the Central Under 18s.
Even though PNBHS had two or three players who had also been at tournament week, Wilbur said the 17-year-old Madder was "head and shoulders better".
"He looked every bit a Central Under 18 player, playing against schoolboys."
Wilbur then heard HSHC A had similar issues to Whanganui two days later by not making the most of their opportunities, while PNBHS only had a couple but made them count in the 2-1 boil-over.
As well as the Whanganui men playing HSHC this weekend at noon at the Twin Turfs, the Premier Women's competition resumes.
The Whanganui women take on Palmerston North Girls' High at 1.45pm.