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The young men have been called home to the Pā, and the hunt is on.
In this post Covid-19 lockdown environment for local rugby, one of the strong redemption stories emerging is the form of a new-look but also familiar Harvey Round Motors Rātana - currently unbeaten in Tasman Tanning Senior competition and the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield holders.
Rātana attracted a few negative headlines in the past two years as the once-proud Premier team was struggling against the stronger clubs – a match in Marton saw three players sinbinned for no mouthguards, their head coach departed with three games remaining last year, and a 100-point loss in Waverley proved especially tough to stomach.
Having relegated to Senior and needing to rebuild not only their roster but their team culture, Rātana brought back club legend and Wanganui representative stalwart Leon Mason as head coach, and while some clubs in Premier and Senior have struggled to fill out their lineups as a result of the big delay from the Covid shutdown, the opposite has occurred in the Pā.
Manager and former coach Johnathon Kaa said they currently had 40 players, only four of whom were in the 2019 squad.
"We've got a lot of youth in the engine room, not so much experience where we can drive how we used to do it, but I think it's a good [forwards and backs] balance, actually."
Helping that balance is the return home of two prodigal sons in former Steelform Wanganui players Kane Tamou and Cody Hemi – Tamou part of the 2015-16 Meads Cup-winning squads, while Hemi played an important role in the 2017 Meads Cup-winning campaign while still at Whanganui Collegiate.
As Rātana got permission from the WRFU for the club to have Heartland-calibre players in the Senior competition, the two young men were only too happy to return to their whānau.
"There was no Heartland team, so they thought 'we'll just come home and play'," Kaa said.
So far, the Rangitīkei derby with Speirs Food Marton was won 20-7, and then the Challenge Shield was lifted off another one-team club in Utiku Old Boys, 48-17.
Last weekend, Rātana defeated 2019 Senior champions Bennett's Taihape 39-15 in a match for both the Challenge Shield and the prestigious inter-club Whenuaroa Shield, introduced in 2018.
"We thought it was just for Premier, but they said it was up to whoever holds it," Kaa said.
"Going back to Senior was an eye-opener for us, just the boys back on a winning edge.
"Ultimately, we'd like to get back into Premier."
That process will depend on how the club is positioned after this Covid-affected season, and Kaa feels it might be a year or two before their roster is solidified.
They have another tough test this Saturday in an away match with 2019 Division 3 champions Kelso Hunterville.
Senior (1pm kickoffs):
Border vs Counties, Dallison Park; Buffalos vs Pirates, Spriggens Park; Kaierau vs Celtic, Country Club; Hunterville vs Rātana, Hunterville (2pm); Marton vs Utiku Old Boys, Marton Park; Taihape bye.