It is Top of the Table Day for the leading two premier and senior sides in both the Tasman Tanning 2021 Wanganui club rugby competitions on Saturday.
Both unbeaten teams – Waverley Harvesting Border premiers and Kelso Hunterville seniors – come up against the second-placed clubs in their grades in vital away fixtures.
In the premiers Border travel to Memorial Park to defend the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield against Byford's Readi-Mix Taihape in a clash of two defending sub-union domestic titleholders who have also contested the premier combined championship final over the past two years.
Eight-time senior champions Hunterville take on defending titleholders Harvey Round Motors Ratana in a game that will also decide the Rangitikei sub-union domestic crown for the year.
In the premiers Border, who won the first round encounter 39-22 at home on Dallison Park, currently hold a five-point lead over Taihape in what will be a seventh Challenge Shield match of the winter.
Hunterville have won all seven games this year and also hold a five-point advantage over Ratana, who have lost one game despite being ahead on the scoreboard at the finish of every outing all season but being stripped of the Ruapehu scalp for fielding an unregistered WRFU player.
On form, the two teams currently at the top of each grade look destined to host home semi-finals but Saturday's results will determine who they play in the July 10 semis.
Since returning from Taranaki in 2011, Border have won 17 of 22 games against Taihape but are only ahead five wins to four on Memorial Park.
Taihape's home successes were 14-13 in 2011, 29-7 2014, 36-30 2016 and 39-14 2018, with the other victory 23-16 in extra time in the 2019 final at Cooks Gardens.
Highest scores between the teams are 53-8 in 2016 and 54-20i n 2017, both by Border on Dallison Park.
Recent match details:
At Waverley – Border 39 (Vereniki Tikoisolomone 3, Ross McDonald 2, Tyrone Albert tries, Nick Harding pen, 2 con, Craig Clare con) beat Taihape 22 (Regan Collier, P T Hay-Horton, Tyler Rogers-Holden tries, Dane Whale pen, 2 con) HT: 22-7 Border.
At Taihape – Border 18 (Nick Harding, Lindsay Horrocks, Alekesio Vakororoga tries, Harding pen) beat Taihape 17 (Tiari Mumby, Tremaine Gilbert, Ryan Karatau tries, Dane Whale con). HT: 17-13 Taihape.
At Waverley – Border 36 (Vereniki Tikoisolomone 2, Ranata Tikoisolomone, Anaru Haerewa, Semi Vodosese, Nick Harding tries, Craig Clare 3 con) beat Taihape 19 (Tiari Mumby, Tim Goodman, Dylan Gallien tries, Dane Whale 2 con. HT: 17-7 Border.
At Cooks Gardens (final) – Border 22 (Angus Middleton try, Nick Harding 5 pen, con) beat Taihape 19 (Tyler Rogers-Holden, Tiari Mumby, Wiremu Cottrell tries, Dane Whale 2 con). HT: 16-12 Border.
At Waverley - Border 10 (Tom Symes try, Nick Harding pen, con) beat Taihape 9 (Te Rangitapu McLeod 3 pen). HT: 9-0 Taihape.
At Taihape – Border 43 (Lindsay Horrocks, Hamish Mellow, Chris Breuer, Craig Clare, Vereniki Tikoisolomone, Jack Hodges tries, Nick Harding dg, 4 con, Clare con) beat Taihape 10 (Dane Whale try, pen, con). HT: 22-10.
At Cooks Gardens (final) – Taihape 31 (Richard Iorns 2, Peter Hay Horton, Tyler Rogers-Holden tries, Dane Whale 3 pen, con) beat Border 26 (Chris Breuer, Craig Clare tries, Nick Harding 4 pen, 2 con) Extra time. HT: 20-18 Border.
At Waverley – Border 39 (Harry Symes, Kapeli Latu, Dylan Pearce, Tom Mathews, Tyler Rogera-Holden tries, Nick Harding 2 pen, 4 con) beat Taihape11 (Dylan Gallien try, Dane Whale 2 pen). HT: 18-11.
At Taihape – Taihape 39 (Jaye Flaws, Te Rangitapu McLeod, Kameli Kuruyabaki, Wiremu Cotterill, Dane Whale tries, McLeod pen, 4 con, Dane Whale dg) beat Border 14 (Harry Symes, Grayson Tihema tries, Tihema con, Nick Harding con). HT: 22-7.
The results clearly indicate that goal-kickers Nick Harding (Border) and Dane Whale (Taihape) are likely to play key roles on Saturday, as will Waverley winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone, who has scored 15 tries this club season.
Third-placed Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau will be seeking to retain a nine-match winning record against Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri in a trip up the Waitotara Valley Road.
Six of those victories have been by sizeable margins, with the exceptions being twice in
2017 – 29-20 away and 13-12 in the consolation final at Spriggens Park – and 27-13 at the Devon Road Country Club early last month.
Kaierau eventually snared a dicey four-try victory thanks to three tries from former reps Karl Pascoe (2) and Ace Malo, with current rep Ethan Robinson contributing 12 points (a try, penalty and two conversions).
Ngamat, however, dominated the first spell and deservedly led 13-5 at the break, only to be dominated by a fitter home squad in the second spell.
It may have been a record 69-12 up the Waitot last winter but the Kaiwhakas are likely to find it a lot tougher this time around, considering last week's 21-22 home loss to Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist and a concerning injury problem.
McCarthy Transport Ruapehu come to Spriggens Park seeking to complete a double against Marist after scrambling home 29-22 at home in the first round. The game could well determine a semi-final start for the victors, with Marist ahead 10-9 on the points table thanks to upsetting Kaierau by a single point with a late converted try last Saturday.
Ruapehu gave Taihape a hell of a game before being pipped 25-22 last weekend after recovering from an 8-25 halftime deficit. Ruapehu have picked up 14 victories against Marist on Spriggens Park since the turn of the century, the latest being 40-10 in 2019 when winger Royce Trow scored three of the side's seven tries and Mitchell Millar pocketed 16 points against his old club. During the new millennium, Ruapehu are ahead 29 wins to 15 with two drawn games, the highest scores being 87-3 (home) and 69-13 (away), both in 2013 by the "Mountain Men".
The Hunterville-Ratana battle at Ratana Pa will give a good guide to the title prospects of clearly the two top contenders in the 12-team senior competition.
Apart from being stripped of the match championship points and the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield at Ohakune on May 8 – a game Ratana won 47-22 but losing because of breaking the player eligibility laws - Ratana have been unbeaten over the past two years.
Hunterville, boosted by the arrival of several Manawatu players, have snared a bonus point (four or more tries) in seven of eight starts this year, with the closest contest 26-19 away to Bennett's Taihape.
After finishing in the top three for 13 successive seasons, Hunterville slipped to fifth in 2019 and 2020 but are well and truly back in title contention this time.
Saturday's game will decide the Rangitikei sub-union domestic title, which Ratana has held every year during the new millennium, although sharing it with Speirs Food Marton in 2013.
Ratana, who dropped down from premiers to senior last year after eight seasons of struggling in the top grade, went through unbeaten in 2020 but this winter struggled against both Taihape and Utiku OB.
The records of Hunterville and Ratana this campaign are –
Hunterville – Home: Beat Utiku OB 43-0, Kaierau 42-19, Border 69-14, Counties 34-17. Away: Beat Marton 25-0, Pirates 34-13, Taihape 26-19, Ruapehu 35-19.
Ratana – Home: Beat Taihape 29-22, Pirates 59-7, Buffalos 52-5, Marton 64-14. Away: Beat Marist Celtic 30-3, Utiku OB 19-12, Border 64-0, Lost to Ruapehu (By forfeit).
After lifting the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield off Bennett's Taihape 19-15 last weekend, Utiku OB will defend the trophy at home against Speirs Food Marton on Saturday.
Other senior fixtures (home teams first) – Black Bull Liquor Pirates v Buffalos, Ali Arc Logistics-DNA Kennels Celtic v Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau, Ruapehu v Taihape and McCrea Scanning Counties v Border.