There have been some great tries scored by Whanganui representative teams over the years but missing from the local rugby scene this season is 31-year-old Samu Macedru Kubunavanua who received national recognition back in 2015 for his amazing try for the union.
The Ngamatapouri winger, who is side-lined this year after a major shoulder operation, scored the most thrilling of his 19 Heartland tries when the Steelform Butcher Boys beat top qualifiers South Canterbury 28-11 in the 2015 Meads Cup final in Timaru.
The NZ Rugby Almanac hailed the thrilling try as follows – "Whenever the final is mentioned the first topic talked about will be THAT try scored by Marcus Kubunavanua which was launched from behind their own goal-line."
It was televised time and again and voted as Sky Fans' Try of the Year at the 2015 Steinlager NZ Rugby Awards, heading off tries scored in every level of rugby in the country including All Black fixtures.
It was the proudest time of his rugby career when Kubunavanua, who scored nine times for Whanganui that season including braces away against North Otago and at home v Poverty Bay, when he received the Sky award in Auckland.
THAT try was re-played to loud applause at the live-TV awards function where Border halfback Lindsay Horrocks, who also scored a try in the final, was named Heartland Player of the Year.
The remarkable try, which started behind his own line by fellow winger Michael Nabuliwaqa (Utiku OB), was a classic example of flair of the Pacific Islanders in the team.
At least four players were involved in the movement that stunned the confident vocal locals at the final.
Kubunavanua, who played the first two years of his club rugby with Utiku OB before switching to Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri in 2016, has represented Whanganui 38 times between 2014-19.
He won four Heartland titles – the Lochore Cup in 2014 and a hat-trick of Meads Cups (2015-16-17).
With Ngamatapouri he helped the club win the senior championship final in 2016 (37-26 v Speirs Food Marton), the Division 2 title in 2019 (32-20 v Black Bull Liquor Pirates) and several Whanganui open sevens tournaments.
Premiers Into Gear
Kaierau again appears the main threat to Border and Taihape, the finalists for the past two years, in the 2021 Tasman Tanning Whanganui premier club rugby championship which starts on Saturday.
Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau, who eventually finished third last season, beat both overall and Metro champions Waverley Harvesting Border and Northern champions Byford's Readimix Taihape in the qualifying rounds.
But the city side, who won the last of six union-wide premier titles in 2015, was beaten 18-13 at home by eventual runners-up Taihape in the semifinals.
During the qualifying rounds the two teams beat each other away from home, Taihape winning 6-5 on opening day at the Devon Road Country Club and the maroons 22-12 on Memorial Park.
This season they first meet in Taihape on May 22 at the end of the first round with the hosts minus rep prop Wiremu Cottrell but boosted by former Otago B No 2 Ben Whale (back from England) and Kaierau without ex-reps Lasa Ulukuta and Clive Stowers (switched back to Black Bull Liquor Pirates) and Logan Henry (back to Manawatū).
Taihape has key rep backs Dane Whale (84 points for the club last year) and versatile Tyler Rogers-Holden and forwards of the quality of current reps Dylan Gallien (five club tries in 2020), Hadlee Hay-Horton and Matt Brown and former rep Tremaine Gilbert.
Key Kaierau players include current rep backs Cameron Davies, Ethan Robinson (88 club points last season) and young Dillon Adrole plus Butcher Boy forwards Cade Robinson, Joe Edwards, Josh Lane and Matt Ashworth. New squad members include Metro Colts' mid fielder Matt Alec, young college halfback Carlos Hill and utility back Tyree Lama, son of ex-rep Areta Lama.
McCarthy Transport Ruapehu, the most successful club since the turn of the century with half a dozen premier titles and top four qualifiers during the past 13 years, will be seeking revenge at Kaierau on Saturday after a 34-14 home loss last season.
Ruapehu, however, is without two classy rep backs with Troy Brown in Rotorua and Josh Fifita in Wellington and 2008 utility rep back Corey Carmichael is unavailable but the club has picked up a South Island halfback and an Argentinian lock.
After dropping the first six games last year the "Mountain Men" beat Ngamatapouri 62-43 and Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist in Ohakune to snare the fourth semifinal berth.
There is considerable forward strength in the Ruapehu pack including current reps Campbell Hart, Jamie Hughes and Gabriel Hakaraia. Second five Royce Trow is elusive as he proved with seven club tries in 2020 to match Hart's effort.
Saturday's fixture is a vital early season test for both clubs.
Titleholders Border, a side with the most dangerous backline in the union (68 tries last winter), will again be hard to topple after contesting five finals since 2012.
Main loss for the team is 46 rep cap prop over the past seven seasons Kampeli Latu but returning are fellow Butcher Boys Kieran Hussey, a versatile loosie or hooker, from Coastal in Taranaki and second five Andy Hamilton from the South Island.
With a strike force that includes the likes of rep backs Veremiki Tikoisolomone (11 club tries in 2020), Lindsay Horrocks (nine tries), Alex Vakaroronga (seven tries) and rep forwards Semi Vodosese and Angus Middleton (five tries each) and winger Isaiah Hooper (seven tries) it will require accurate defence from Marist at Spriggens Park on Saturday.
Although Marist has shared the qualifying honours with Border on five occasions since 2012 in fixtures involving the two clubs it was mainly one way traffic at Dallison Park (79-19) last season but the greens later improved (10-44) at home in the city.
Marist has the bulk of last season's squad again available headed by rep mid fielder Josaia Bogileka and rep forwards Patrick O'Leary and Jack Yarrall.
The club has promoted halfback Lamaire Manihera-Allan and winger Rangi Kui from Celtic seniors with winger Jamie Robertson and hooker Shade Tuaine-Whanau switching from senior champions Harvey Round Motors Ratana.
Six-times union wide champions Marist, who last won the title in 2010, have narrowly missed the play-offs by a single spot in the last two seasons,
Taihape has a long trip up the Ngamatapouri Valley to start the new season against the locals.
Last year it was 77-17 at the same venue, Taihape running in 13 of the team's 51 tries from a dozen starts.
The return from England of former Otago B No 8 Ben Whale, son of former Wanganui match centurion Kerry Whale and brother of king pin back Dane Whale, will further strengthen a solid all-round Taihape squad.
Current reps Dane Whale and versatile utility Tyler Rogers-Holden plus former reps Jaye Flaws and James Barrett head the backline talent while the sound forward contingent includes 2020 reps Matt Brown, Dylan Gallien and Hadlee Hay-Horton plus ex-rep Tremaine Gilbert.
Last year Dane Whale scored 84 points with wingers Tiari Mumby (seven) and Ryan Karatau (six), mobile hooker Gallien and Rogers-Holden (fiv each) the top try scorers.
Main loss for the club is Hawke's Bay bound rep prop Wiremu Cottrell.
Ngamatapouri will really miss rampant three quarter – loose forward Kubunavanua who is out injured.
Ngamatapouri, coached by former Pirates' coach Danny Tamehana, has often shown plenty of flair but has too often lacked forward control.
Most dangerous player is Timoci (Jim) Seruwalu who has won both Heartland titles - Meads Cup with Whanganui in 2017 and Lochore Cup with Horowhenua-Kāpiti.
He scored six tries for Ngamat last season and also returned to the local rep ranks.