Brought to you by Wanganui Rugby
If you think there's nothing on the line in the last weekend of the Tasman Tanning Senior regular season with the two grand finalists already confirmed, try telling that to Speirs Food Marton.
The Rangitīkei club, like many country sides, found themselves struggling to get into a groove after the stop-start training delays for 2020 caused by Covid-19, and because of the vagaries of the 10-game draw were unwittingly matched up in the first half against sides who proved final contenders.
But even after losing five straight games, Marton never let their heads drop, and have since gone on the third-best run of the Senior campaign with four consecutive victories, meaning the last match at their beloved Marton Park with Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau is the chance for a break-even season.
Balancing the books suits their tradesman head coach Mark Jones just fine.
"That's definitely what we're aiming for – you always get up for your home games," he said.
After those early losses, the recent winning streak against the lower-table squads means Marton are now more confident to again test themselves against a team who, until last weekend, were still in grand final contention.
"If we can get a good result, it will show where we can be, coming into next year," Jones said.
"Before Covid, we would have had easily close to 40 guys coming down to training.
"Then it all just stopped, then we had one [restart] date and it got pushed out again, and a lot of guys were 'aw, if it happens again, I'm not going to be keen'."
While the majority came back, Jones had to deal with a mini-injury crisis, which he put down to his squad of predominantly 18 to 23-year-olds not having their usual fitness because of the lockdown which stopped regular work and the Twilight social sports they all play in the town and in Palmerston North.
Marton were a better team than 0-5 suggested, giving undefeated Harvey Round Motors Ratana what would prove a rare test (20-7), losing after their bye week to Bennett's Taihape (26-10), and being desperately unlucky away to Kelso Hunterville (6-5).
After heavier losses to Utiku Old Boys (36-20) and Ali Arc Logistics-DNA Kennels Marist Celtic (45-5) on the Racecourse ground when six props had to start, Jones searched for the magic words to tell his men - knowing they had to come back to Spriggens Park twice more this season.
"In terms of self-belief, after that game, first time comfortably beaten, it was a bit of a wake-up call."
With the injured returning, Marton lifted to beat Marist Buffalos (29-27), Border (26-15), Black Bull Liquor Pirates (27-25) and then last weekend had their most impressive outing away to Counties (31-6).
Both the Buffalos and Pirates wins came from scoring off the last play of those games at Spriggens.
"They were intense from the sideline, giving the coach a few grey hairs," said Jones, who is only 28.
"Those buzzer-beaters, we've learned more from those than any big win."
Two players who lifted the side from the quagmire are club stalwart Kelly Kumeroa, the former back who at 44 has become a prop and now plays alongside his two sons, along with Frenchman Maxime Ramiroz, who helps guide the backline.
The draw is:
Senior (1pm kickoffs, unless otherwise noted): Counties vs Hunterville, McNab Domain (2pm); Marton vs Kaierau, Marton Park; Marist Buffalos vs Rātana, Spriggens Park (2.30pm); Border vs Utiku Old Boys, Dallison Park; Marist Celtic vs Taihape, Spriggens Park.