Brought to you by Whanganui Rugby
Call it bottom vs top if you want, but in the most competitive division across WRFU adult rugby, anything is possible when Bennett's Taihape hosts JJ Walters Marton on Saturday.
Tasman Tanning Seniors Country group has barely had a struck match between the six teams, all still fighting to make the top 3 after the last round-robin games this weekend - thereby qualifying for the championship group alongside their counterparts from the town group.
Undefeated Marton are safe, but with the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield on the line and a "very outside chance" that five competition points could see them through if other results go their way, Taihape coach Sefo Bourke is not thinking past this weekend.
"I know, just watching from results, they've got a fairly competitive team this year," Bourke said of the Shield holders.
"But just with the team we've had the last couple of weeks, we can do it."
Marton are coming off a previously unscheduled break when their game against fellow title contender Harvey Round Motors Ratana was cancelled out of respect for the death of Rehimana Meihana, the tumuaki of the Rātana Church of NZ.
Taihape, meanwhile, had a hard hit out at Memorial Park against neighbours McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu, which held on 24-17.
A bonus point keeps Taihape alive, barely, after a campaign where they came up just short playing away to Kelso Hunterville (22-14) and Ratana (19-15), before equally the largest winning margin of the division with a 34-12 victory in the derby with Utiku Old Boys.
Helping out the Senior group has been Bourke's old Byford's Readimix Taihape Premier teammates Luke Whale, Ryan Karatau and 2013-14 Steelform Whanganui representative Jaye Flaws.
"They bring a lot of experience, playing club rugby, especially Jaye, but all three of them really," said Bourke, who as a player experienced premier championship success with Taihape as well as Otorohanga RFC in Waikato.
Of the new breed, a player to definitely watch in the future is No8 Joseph Cowley, who has performed very strongly at senior level for the past two seasons.
Premier coach Tom Wells has been looking to give Cowley a run; however, injury and a bout of Covid-19 delayed the opportunity, as Taihape has an absolute traffic jam of loose forward talent to get through in Ben Whale, Jamie Hughes, Lennox Shanks and Regan Collier.
There is the chance that a tight victory over the visitors on Saturday means Taihape could claim the shield but not make the championship group, but given how competitive this division has been it is a likelihood that one of the three teams that doesn't get through will go on to win the consolation crown.
"We'll still be there, just have to readjust after the bye and re-do the rounds and go from there. The goal would be to make the top 2," said Bourke.
It will be another big Saturday of games at Memorial Park with the Taihape vs Marton and Utiku vs Ratana senior fixtures to be followed by the premier clash between Taihape and Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau.
Senior draw (1pm kickoffs, times subject to change)
Counties vs Celtic, MacNab Domain; Buffalos vs Pirates, Spriggens Park; Border vs Kaierau, Dallison Park
Utiku vs Ratana, Memorial Park No1; Taihape vs Marton, Memorial Park No 2; Ruapehu vs Hunterville, Rochfort Park.
The first MRU victory for the new-look St Johns Metro Colts squad in 2022 just slipped through their fingers after a composed Bush SC snatched the game with two late tries on Saturday.
In a correction to the previous scoreboard provided by MRU, the final score at Bush Park was 25-19 to the home side, after Metro led 12-5 at halftime and 19-15 inside the last 15 minutes.
"The whole thing was a bit of an arm wrestle," said coach Mark Cosford of the game, which was played in wet weather with a slippery ball.
"Bit more intensity this week, it was good for me and Ricky [Winterburn] to see they've got a bit of want."
Alumni Joey Devine returned to the side to help out, as a squad of only 19 players went south.
Fellow try-scorers Jerome McKenna and captain Blair Harrison had standout games, as did busy openside flanker Isaac Jordan and Brandon Burberry.
"The boys can see there's a bit of potential there," said Cosford.
Bush sit undefeated with three wins, second on the table with one less bonus point than Metro's next opponent – College Old Boys RFC.
That 12.45pm match on Saturday will start a run of three home games for Metro.
Completing their run of home games was a sober dose of reality for the Metro Women's team, beaten 67-10 by Old Boys Marist at the Kaierau Country Club on Saturday.
However, to put this in perspective, there is quite a disparate gap for elite-level development in women's rugby across the MRU - where club players still learning the code get matched up against semi-professionals.
Old Boys Marist had four players who were part of the Hurricanes Poua squad which played the Super Rugby Aupiki competition in March.
Prop Lavenia Nauga-Grey said the home forward pack was strong early, but the backs were a little uncertain about how to attack against their vaunted opposition.
"We came out of the blocks very, very slow.
"We also really need to work on backing ourselves in our lineout.
"It really came to life in that second half."
Metro will take encouragement from winning a tighthead and their two tries – Nauga-Grey being pushed over the line, while halfback Riana Tamati went for a dart off the ruck to score.
"It gives us confidence going further along that we are a team that can score points," Nauga-Grey said.
Both try scorers were the standout players, Tamati continues to grow as a playmaker, while reserve Catherine Nauga impressed in her comeback game from injury.
After their wins over fellow minnows Wairarapa Wahine Toa and Ashhurst Pohangina RFC, Metro's loss drops them back to fifth place, behind Bush SC which barely defeated them 27-24 on April 9.
Metro will now complete the first round of games away to Feilding Old Boys-Oroua (3-2) at Kimbolton Domain at 12.45pm on Saturday.
The quest to make their first-ever MRU semifinal has a pathway – flip the Bush result, get repeat wins over Wairarapa and Ashhurst, and muster as many bonus points as possible against them as well as the three leading Manawatū clubs.