Brought to you by Wanganui Rugby
In a club going from strength-to-strength in recent seasons, Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau has their two most important Tasman Tanning Senior games in recent memory this next fortnight.
The first is for legacy, or rather, ending a painful one, and if they can climb that hill, the following week will be for a chance to move forward for a rare opportunity at some silverware.
In the cutthroat manner of this Covid-19 truncated season, where there are no semifinals and 11 teams are all fighting for just two playoff spots, Kaierau sit third place and two wins back from both Ali Arc Logistics–DNA Kennels Marist Celtic and Harvey Round Motors Ratana.
With Celtic on their bye week and the Ratana match looming in the Pa on September 5, Kaierau still have an outside chance to book a ticket to Cooks Gardens on September 19; exactly where their Premier clubmates also plan to be in what would be an appropriate outcome given the close relationship between the two squads.
Taking a combined-effort approach, Kaierau has really grown their depth at the Country Club – Senior coach Brendon Lawrence and assistant Mike Lama getting young players ready to move up into the 1st XV, while in turn receiving willing reinforcement from Premier players making a stop-off after injuries or absences to play for them.
A veteran player of both levels, Lawrence said the culture is the best he has ever seen it.
"Just the whole feel of the club at the moment, it's a Kaierau family.
"We've tried to build this family feel in the club the last few years, and bring through homegrown players.
"We tell our young guys, our goal really, 'we don't want to see you in Senior at the end of the season – we want you fighting your way into that Premier team'."
The enthusiasm was infectious as Kaierau made a great start to their campaign with comfortable wins over Black Bull Liquor Pirates (50-5), Border (25-13), Counties (31-7) and Marist Buffalos (56-10).
However, mid-competition the resolve was tested when Kaierau "threw it away" against Celtic, beaten 24-21 after leading 21-10 inside the final 10 minutes, while the long bus ride to Memorial Park to face Utiku Old Boys meant they "came onto the pitch half asleep," losing 27-17.
A week later back at home, Kaierau were circling the drain against Bennett's Taihape - down 26-5 at halftime – and inspirational veteran Dion Hyland had had enough.
Hyland laid down the law, backed up by other team leaders Jarrod Hook and Johnny Prince, and Kaierau staged a remarkable comeback to win 36-26 and keep their season alive.
They weren't idle on their bye week, playing St Johns Wanganui Metro in a Friday night friendly game, and Lawrence said the team is primed to make their charge.
"From here on in, we've got to win every game with bonus points. Not sure about the bonus, but we can definitely win our next three games."
It all starts with the physiological hurdle that comes with facing Kelso Hunterville.
For over a decade, Kaierau have been unsuccessful against the near-perennial Senior champions – long time servant Bradley Slater has been patiently waiting 14 seasons for that magic win.
Many times it was not a consideration against the strong country club – in Division 3 last year Hunterville pumped Kaierau 55-18 – but on so many other occasions the precious victory hung just out of reach, like the first round of Senior 2019 when the favourites barely escaped the Country Club, 27-23.
"We were all over them, but we just couldn't break through," said Lawrence.
"It's always a close game against them; they always seem to sneak the win. It would be a monkey off our backs, for sure."
The draw is
Senior (1pm kickoffs, times subject to change): Counties vs Taihape, McNab Domain; Pirates vs Marton, Spriggens Park; Ratana vs Border, Ratana Pa; Kaierau vs Hunterville, Country Club; Utiku Old Boys vs Marist Buffalos, Memorial Park.