Brought to you by Wanganui Rugby
It will be an emotional afternoon at Spriggens Park on Saturday as Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist prepare to defend home turf against Tasman Tanning Premier champions Byfords Readimix Taihape.
Marist's thoughts are all for their talented Steelform Wanganui midfielder Josaia Bogileka, whose child died in an accident at the start of the week.
Greatly admired for both his skills and his loyalty, given he could have left to go title-chasing with stronger clubs, the Bogileka family tragedy has hit very hard in the Marist camp, with new coach Trav Hopkins saying the club will play for him this weekend.
"Not that they needed any more get up and go, but they'll give it their all for a guy who's given it all for Marist.
"Marist is more than a rugby club. It's like whanau."
Trying to make their first Premier semifinals since 2017, the home side find themselves in perpetual rebuilding mode, trying to develop youngsters alongside remaining veterans, and they had a tough baptism last Saturday - losing 21-16 to Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri up in the Waitotara Valley.
"It's been pretty tough, pre-Covid things were ticking along nicely," said Hopkins.
"Now, everyone outside of the half dozen guys is green at Premier level."
Travel restrictions to Fiji meant Wanganui and NZ Heartland XV representative Penijamini Nabainivalu has been unable to rejoin the side.
Last year the squad was reinforced by having four players from the Whanganui Boxon league club due to their having no local season, and those players have now departed, including noted prop Gordon Karaitiana taking a break from sport this winter.
"Emitai [Logadraudrau] scored a try against us [for Ngamatapouri], which rubbed salt into the wound," said Hopkins.
"It would have been great to have [Peni's] experience.
"There's nowhere to hide."
Hopkins convinced WRFU development officer Simon Dibben, over 50 games for Wanganui, to come off the bench last weekend, joining the veteran contingent of Bogileka, prop Viki Tofa, and loose forward Bradley Graham.
"He's class, he's looking after the team," said Hopkins of skipper Graham.
He has been asking more from the likes of halfback Rory Gudsell and lock Brad O'Leary, who both have experience playing for NZ Marist junior teams.
"Taihape are an experienced team, you don't become the champions without some good things in place.
"It's going to be a tough fight."
Taihape coach Tom Wells is rating last weekend's 6-5 squeak-by win over Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau as one of the team's best in his tenure, given he is currently working with a playing group of only 18-19, and had even sat on the bench himself at the Country Club.
"We've lightened up on the ground, which is normal for a country club.
"There's a lot to work on but I can't fault them. It was awesome on Saturday, if you look at Kaierau and what a lot of coaches feel, they will be one of the favourites."
Taihape have the issue that due to the re-done draws, their senior team is playing in different locations for all but a couple of weekends, and several noteworthy players – like Luke Whale, PT Hay-Horton and James Barrett - have committed to the 2nd XV fulltime.
Like their Northern sub-union neighbours in McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu, quality backs are at a premium for Taihape, with the versatile Tyler Rogers-Holden moving back into halfback to partner on-field general Dane Whale.
In the forwards remains the real strength, with Wiremu Cottrell and Dylan Gallien holding down the front row as they wait for Hadlee Hay-Horton to come back from injury, while the faithful Ritchie Iorns is there again.
Wells is also very excited about the prospects of their two young loose forwards – as former Gain Line XV representative Lennox Shanks has returned from his rugby layoff due to head injuries, and the newcomer from the South Island is shepherd Ollie Rhodes.
As well as their championship, Taihape are defending a rather unique streak in Premier club rugby - since May 3 last year they have won eight consecutive away matches.
"It's definitely a stat I haven't taken notice of, probably more a worry that we've lost a few at home, but anything like that is a big help," said Wells.
In the other Premier games, Kaierau will look to pick themselves up from Saturday's narrow loss when the in-form Waverley Harvesting Border come to the Country Club, bringing the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield with them.
Ngamatapouri will be after rare back-to-back wins when they head up to Ohakune to face a Ruapehu side determined to keep Rochfort Park as a fortress despite being undermanned for troops.
The draws are:
Premier (2.30pm kickoffs): Marist vs Taihape, Spriggens Park; Kaierau vs Border, Country Club; Ruapehu vs Ngamatapouri, Ohakune.
Senior (1pm kickoffs): Marist Celtic vs Pirates, Spriggens Park; Kaierau vs Border, Country Club; Marist Buffalos vs Counties, Racecourse No1; Ratana vs Utiku Old Boys, Ratana; Hunterville vs Taihape, Hunterville; Marton bye.