Brought to you by Wanganui Rugby
The young men of the Pā have delivered an unbeaten Tasman Tanning Senior season for their rebuilding club and delighted whānau as Harvey Round Motors Ratana pulled away from Ali Arc Logistics & DNA Kennels Marist Celtic on Saturday.
Ratana's depth and strength in the forwards told as they withstood Celtic coming back at them throughout the match, in fact leading 15-12 after 50 minutes, to run out 29-20 winners - being buoyed by their singing supporters who made 200 voices sound like 600.
Right from the kickoff, Celtic made some nervous errors - allowing Ratana to work into position - with fullback Brooklyn Herewini stepping close to the tryline, before their former Steelform Wanganui halfback and eventual Player of the Day Kane Tamou went for a classic sneak off the ruck to run behind the posts.
Matters soon got a little testy between the rivals as Herewini was given a yellow card after an altercation at the ruck.
Looking to use their overlap and free up their teenaged outside backs, Celtic made some nice offloads through the midfield, before veteran first five (and former Ratana coach) Steelie Koro sent a punch pass for centre Michael Flood to put winger Ioane Hough-Aki over in the corner, with his fellow winger Rangi Kui making a great sideline conversion for 7-7.
Ratana weren't daunted, earning a penalty to kick into the attacking corner, where despite being one player short they spread the ball for winger Jamie Robertson to bounce up from an uncompleted tackle and send fellow winger Tex Seduadua over beside the corner flag. Centre Cody Hemi took over the kicking but missed despite an extra attempt for an early charge.
Back to a full XV, it seemed Ratana would ride their lead into halftime, but working forward off penalties just before the break, Celtic stabbed a grubber kick and Kui flashed through to dive on it for the equaliser – just striking the timber with his opposite sideline conversion.
Celtic's veteran forwards were hanging tough with their younger opposition, who looked to Hemi to break out with a couple of dangerous runs, before ill discipline gave Kui two chances at penalty kicks – missing the longer range 52m attempt but making no mistake with the closer follow-up.
Behind for the first time and going into the wind, Ratana's front row responded as prop Tyson Tauri and hooker Shade Tuaine-Whanau imposed themselves, and after the pack drove to the tryline from a lineout, Tamou went for another sneak and got the shunt from behind to get the ball down.
Further Ratana carries and pressure on the back of Celtic's scrum brought them back onto attack, where a grubber kick in-goal took a horror bounce for Kui and Hemi was right there to dive on it for 26-15 with 12 minutes left.
It seemed Celtic had fired all their shots, until replacement winger Kotahi Paranihi ran off a tap kick near halfway, outstripped the cover defence and beat Hemi cold to score a 50m try in the corner with five minutes left.
However, Celtic were denied a grandstand finish as an accidental offside from their spilled restart gave Herewini the chance to slot his fourth straight kick and with it, claim Ratana's first ever senior title.
"This morning we had a group chat, setting goals for ourselves," said coach Leon Mason.
"Putting ourselves under pressure like this was the biggest goal, and how do we consume it, how do we control it?
"The boys did really well to keep to their set piece, and trust one another to have each other's backs."
The title win was also a massive shot in the arm for the rebuilding club, who relegated themselves out of Premier after several fruitless seasons.
"The biggest goal wasn't to get the final, it was just to regroup, to pick the club back up again," said Mason.
"Give most humble thanks to Steelie and the previous coaches that were there before me – they set the foundation, and had the same vision that we had this year.
"To get back in the final and bring our home crowd is a blessing."
The loss was tough to take for Celtic's older veterans, once again being so close yet so far from claiming the trophy, but they had given everything coach Duane Brown had asked.
"Proud of our brothers and our nephews, they had a lot of heart, and at the end of the day that's what you've got to want in the team."
The talents and speed of Kui, Hough-Aki, Paranihi and fullback Te Herureu Koro are obvious and Brown agreed they could form a nucleus for the Wanganui Marist club in coming years.
"I hope so, it's just about keeping them with us, and what we need to do as a club.
"There's even boys after these ones here, in Cullinane [College], that I wouldn't mind grabbing too, and I hope Ratana look after their young boys as well and keep them here."
Ratana 29 (Kane Tamou 2, Tex Seduadua, Cody Hemi tries; Brooklyn Herewini pen, 3 con) bt Marist Celtic 20 (Ioane Hough-Aki, Rangi Kui, Kotahi Paranihi tries; Kui pen, con). HT: 12-12.
Around the grounds
JUNIOR RUGBY: While their Premier side left Whanganui empty-handed, there were still championship celebrations for the Taihape club as the Taihape Vets under-13s defeated McDougal Earthmoving Kaierau under-13s in a 30-27 thriller on Saturday. The under-13 final was played at Spriggens Park after being moved from Cooks Gardens due to Covid-19 restrictions.
DEVELOPMENT XV: A Wanganui Development XV squad has been selected to play a one-off fixture for 2020 against Manawatu Academy on Wednesday night at Cooks Gardens, kickoff 7pm. The team is: Jack van Bussel (Kaierau), Jack Yarrall (Marist), Shade Tuaine-Whanau (Ratana), Stan Puapii (Kaierau), Kohlt Coveny (Kaierau), Brad O'Leary (Marist), Toby Lennox (Border), Dawson Sisson (Ruapehu), Mairangi Tamehana (Ngamatapouri), Lennox Shanks (Taihape), Ollie Rhodes (Taihape), Semi Vodosese (Border), Tawhiwhi Karaitiana (Ratana), Arasi Filo (Ratana), Dylan Bowater (Kaierau), Cam Davies (Kaierau), James Stratton (Utiku OB), Logan Blackburn (Collegiate/Ruapehu), Pati Leo (Marist), Dillon Adrole (Kaierau), Tawera Puohotaua (Kaierau), Rangi Kui (Marist), Tiari Mumby (Taihape), Dominic Devine (Metro), Ioani Aki (Marist), Jack O'Leary (Metro). Coach: Carl Gibson.
UNDER-18: Three Whanganui players, two boys and a girl, have been selected to attend the 2020 Barbarians Hurricanes Under-18 high performance camp. They are Logan Henry, Ezra Malo and Riana Tamati. Feilding High's Aj Malili-Malo-Luano, a former Kaierau junior, has also been chosen.