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Player retention, or lack thereof, in the wake of Covid-19 will prove to be a decisive factor in regards to who lifts the Tasman Tanning Premier crown, if the season opener in Waverley was any judge on Saturday.

A very familiar-looking Waverley Harvesting Border outfit that has only added to its strength met a McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu squad entering a stage of rebuilding and the result was a ten tries to two blowout, the home side romping away to a 58-13 victory in their first 2020 defence of the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield.

While Ruapehu welcomed some quality talent like first-five Aaron Paranihi from Counties, while former Steelform Wanganui prop Tawhio Gupwell has come back from Horowhenua-Kapiti, their backline was seriously undermanned - necessitating flanker Jamie Hughes playing at second-five while club legend Andrew Evans came out of retirement to cover fullback.

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Add in their sole remaining incumbent Wanganui back Troy Brown gutting through only the first half on a pulled hamstring, and Ruapehu lacked for speed and experience against a Waverley side renowned for their attacking chip kicks and lightning islander pace.

Harnessing prolific try-scoring winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone and promising new centre Alekesio Vakarorogo, Border's brain trust of the double try-scorers in halfback Lindsay Horrocks and first-five Craig Clare were absolutely ruthless and pinpoint in their execution - finding open space either over the top or sniping through despairing dives in the first line of defence.

Border had depth on the bench to keep the momentum up as Wanganui lock Sam Madams has returned from Marist, although the locals had to groan as virtually straight after he ran onto the field after halftime he was off behind the posts for ten minutes, with Ruapehu halfback and former rep team mate Josh Fifita also going to the other end, following a dust up at the break down.

The former Highlander in Clare was in his element; using his vision and the sense of extra time that professionals always seem to have to pivot off both shoulders and sweep through tacklers.

Easily the fastest player on the field, Tikoisolomone flew onto three pinpoint kicks and a cut out pass respectively to run in a quartet of tries.

Vereniki Tikoisolomone scored four tries in Border's defence of the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield. Photo / Jared Smith
Vereniki Tikoisolomone scored four tries in Border's defence of the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield. Photo / Jared Smith

For Ruapehu, prop Gabriel Hakaraia has taken much more responsibilities in the pack, including the lineout throws, while try-scoring skipper Campbell Hart tried to hold back the tide, and reserve winger Corey Carmichael set up a fine try for fellow winger Royce Trow on fulltime.

It was nonetheless a very uncharacteristic scoreline against Ruapehu, and coach Kim McNaught said the players who did front were likely to be the best they've got for 2020.

"The days of ringing Peter Rowe and Shaun McDonough, those days are gone now.

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"We're pretty much trying to rebuild, trying to get college kids through, we had two college kids today on debut for the club.

"Every club's going to go through it, before the Covid we were looking pretty good, we had guys, some classy backs.

"But just the Covid hit and the loss of the Heartland [Championship] deterred them back to the Senior comp [for clubs] where they live, so it's pretty tough.

"We come down here, we knew it was going to be tough, they're a class outfit, especially with guys like Lindsay and Chop [Clare] guiding that ship, it's hard work.

"We put a stake in the ground – we're here, we didn't fold for the season, we can only get better."

For a team eager to get back into the Grand Final they lost in extra time in 2019, new Border coach Cole Baldwin was not about to get over-excited about such a big win against their traditional foe.

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"I thought the set piece was quite good, there's still a lot of opportunities we let go out there, probably another 6-7 tries that we wasted.

"Got to be a bit harder on ourselves if we want to be that team to beat this year, but it's a good starting point."

Baldwin was pleased that the squad continuity and timing was still there from 2019.

"People probably don't realise how hard we've been working, they haven't been having it easy so still a fair bit to work on, but we'll get there."

Border 58 (V Tikoisolomone 4, L Horrocks 2, C Clare 2, A Middleton, A Vakarorogo tries; N Harding 3 con, J Lupton con) bt Ruapehu 13 (C Hart, R Trow tries; A Paranihi pen). HT: 31-3.

Club rugby wrap

As they found last year at Memorial Park, there was virtually nothing in it between Byford Readimix Taihape and Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau in a knife-edged Tasman Tanning Premier opener on Saturday.

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Defending champions Taihape, continuing to foster their recent reputation as a "road" team, held on by their fingernails for a 6-5 victory at the Country Club, reversing the 17-16 loss to Kaierau almost 12 months ago to the day.

In a physical encounter, Taihape went up 6-0 not long before halftime with playmaker Dane Whale successful on two of his penalty goal attempts, which was then followed by a scoreless third quarter between two sides cancelling out much of their most promising plays.

Having come close to scoring on a handful of occasions, only to be kept short or ruled by the referee not to have made it, Kaierau finally broke through inside the last 10 minutes with a try to second-five Ethan Robinson, only to leave the crucial conversion wide.

Continuing to defend their own half, Taihape clung on for the hard fought win, and will look to keep alive their away game winning streak, which stands at eight competition matches since May 3 last year, when they face Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist at Spriggens Park this Saturday.

Marist came out of the Waitotara Valley a little sore and annoyed as Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri celebrated their return to the top grade with a 21-16 win.

Having been relegated for the second half of last season under the three division format, and duly going on to claim the Division 2 title, Ngamatapouri have not been idle in securing more talent, as Manawatu Mustangs player Emitai Logadraudrau scored against the Marist club he played for in 2019 when there was no rugby league club competition available.

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Timoci 'Jim' Seruwalu, who scored 16 tries in 2019, added his first tick to the sheet, as did the club's other standout in Samu Kubunavanua.

Marist, perpetually rebuilding around young players and the handful of seasoned players, scored tries through forward George Forster and 2019 Steelform Wanganui midfielder Josaia Bogileka, while young playmaker Ashton Coates added two penalties in a match with some cards handed out.

The beekeepers will now see if they can take their form on the road with the big hike up to Ohakune to meet McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu this Saturday.

In the Senior competition, there is already a new holder of the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield as Utiku Old Boys claimed bragging rights in the Memorial Park derby with a 20-10 win over Bennett's Taihape.

The battle between last year's beaten Division 2 semifinalists saw Utiku lead 17-10 at halftime, and then secure breathing space with the only three-pointer of the second stanza.

The Rangitikei District derby game was just as tough, as a new-look Harvey Round Motors Ratana started their foray as a Senior club with a 20-7 win over Speirs Food Marton.

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Winless after they survived relegation to stay in Division 1 last season, Ratana recognised the need to rebuild, and have a new coaching staff while only two players from 2019 were in the starting XV for the game at Marton Park.

Black Bull Liquor Pirates are also rebuilding after their decision to field a Senior team only, but it wasn't as auspicious start as Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau ran away with it - 52-5 at the Country Club.

While the Premiers were unsuccessful, it was an overall good day for the Wanganui Marist club, as both Celtic and Buffalos picked up shutout wins on the road, beating Counties 43-0 and Border 20-0 at McNab Domain and Dallison Park respectively.

Results, July 4
Tasman Tanning Premier, Week 1

Byford's Readimix Taihape 6 (Dane Whale 2 pen) bt Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau 5 (Ethan Robinson try). HT: 6-0.

Grand Hotel Challenge Shield – Waverley Harvesting Border 58 (Vereniki Tikoisolomone 4, Craig Clare 2, Lindsay Horrocks 2, Angus Middleton, Alex Vakarongo tries; Nick Harding 3 con, Jack Lupton con) bt McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu 13 (Royce Trow, Campbell Hart tries, Aaron Paranihi pen). HT: 31-3

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Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri 21 (Samu Kubunavanua, Emitai Loqadraudrau, Jim Seruwalu tries; None Taurua 3 con) bt Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist 16 (George Forster, Josaia Bogileka tries, Ashton Coates 2 pen).

Senior, Week 1

At Kaierau C.C: Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau bt Black Bull Liquor Pirates 52-5. HT: 26-5.

At Dallison Park: Marist Buffalo's bt Border 20-0. HT: 3-0.

At McNab Domain: Marist Celtic bt Counties 43-0. HT: 33-0.

At Memorial Park (Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield): Utiku OB bt Bennett's Taihape 20-10. HT: 17-10.

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At Marton Park: Harvey Round Motors Ratana bt Speirs Food Marton 20-7. HT: 7-0.

Happenings

RETURN:

The Kaierau Premiers home match with Taihape on Saturday was a very special occasion for their reserve loose forward Dylan Bowater. When he jogged on in the second half, it was Bowater's first match since August 2017 when he captained the NZ Heartland XV at the Jock Hobbs Memorial Under 19 tournament. Bowater has been out of rugby since that time while rehabilitating from severe concussion symptoms.

METRO: The Wanganui Metro Men's team stamped their mark in their Manawatu Colts fixture away to Feilding Old Boys with a 61-8 pounding on Saturday. Meanwhile back at the Massey University grounds, it was an historic occasion for the Wanganui Metro Women as they kicked off their inaugural Prue Christie Cup game against the Massey Vixen's. Massey took a 17-0 lead into halftime with the newcomers, and road it out to a 24-0 win.

PEROFETA: Blues coach Leon MacDonald is putting his future stock in first-fives on the likes of former Steelform Wanganui standout Stephen Perofeta when Beauden Barrett departs after this season. Barrett has announced he's taking a short-term deal with Japanese club Suntory in December. "We've invested in Harry Plummer, Stephen Perofeta and Otere Black. We feel comfortable we've got our bases covered pretty well," said MacDonald.