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After two close losses and with a Senior Division 2 semifinal looming, McCrea Scanning Counties would dearly love to pick up a Country group scalp or two in the next couple of weeks.
With a 2-3 record at the end of the Town group games, Counties finished as the highest placed team that did not qualify for the Division 1 group, being in contention right until the final round on May 21.
Meanwhile, in the ultra-tough Country group, the teams of Kelso Hunterville, Bennett's Taihape and Utiku Old Boys had all been competitive and somewhat unlucky in specific games against the Top 3 qualifiers out of their section – leading to the conclusion one of them is going on to claim Division 2.
But don't count out the battlers from Kaiwhaiki – "Town" in classification but Country at heart.
The other teams from their original group have gone by the wayside in Division 2 – the Border Seniors folding their season while the Marist Buffalos remain winless, including losing to Counties in both rounds.
But travelling away for their toughest games, Counties came back to win both second halves against Hunterville and Taihape, just falling short at 20-15 and 14-10.
Safe for the playoffs in third currently on bonus points and a positive differential, Counties still feel they have a mark to make when they host Utiku Old Boys at Macnab Domain to complete the round-robin.
Captained by forward James Marshall and coached by Richard Shaw, Counties have retained most of their young squad from 2021, including a front row in their early 20s.
"They've come back [and] got a few young ones in newer positions," said team manager Johnny Butson.
"We're just out of it. I think there wasn't much difference in it – we only just lost to Hunterville, just lost to Taihape.
"All the players are doing an excellent job. Looking forward to all of this [next fortnight].
"For these boys, it's the first time we've made a semi."
Counties would have dearly loved to play some of the other clubs they have fun rivalries with – such as virtual cousins JJ Walters Marton – but that wasn't to be under the 2022 format.
But home this weekend in front of their beloved supporters, who park the trucks up beside the sidelines, Counties are looking forward to trying to get some payback on Utiku, who beat them soundly 43-3 last year.
Senior draw (1pm kickoffs unless noted, times subject to change):
Celtic vs Kaierau, Racecourse No 1 (2.35pm); Ruapehu vs Ratana, Rochfort Park; Pirates vs Marton, Spriggens Park.
Counties vs Utiku Old Boys, Macnab Domain (2pm); Buffalos vs Taihape, Racecourse No1; Bye: Hunterville.
St Johns Whanganui Metro wrapped up a successful latter-half run in the MRU Colts first round with a 41-5 dismissal of Feilding Old Boys-Oroua at Spriggens Park on Saturday.
Already safe for the Top 5 Championship group when the split in the nine-team grade occurred this week, Metro (5-3) still couldn't take sixth place FOB-Oroua (3-5) lightly, as they will be clear favourites to top the Consolation group.
The home side led 26-5 at halftime, and stayed comfortable with 15 more unanswered points, although coach Mark Cosford said the visitors never quit trying.
"They just kept coming at us, so it was good for our guys to have a bit of pressure.
"Because we've got the teams that were above us now."
Flanker Isaac Jordan scored a hat trick, while player-of-the-day prop Brandon Burberry got a double.
The other tries came from skipper Lucas Reardon and Jack Annabell, while halfback Jerome McKenna had another standout game.
Metro will now kick off the Championship round against one of their vanquishers from the first round in Bush SC (7-1), who beat them 25-19 at Bush Park on May 14.
Bush's points differential (59) is second-least of the top group, including Metro (99), but the Pahiatua club has the habit of backing their defence and then pulling out the tight games – as happened with Metro, who were narrowly leading late in the match until a dropped ball saw the home side dash to the other end to score the match-winner.
"They do enough to win at critical stages. They scored a try against the run of play," said Cosford.
"It's a change for the boys to have a bit of redemption because that's one they let slip through their fingers.
"We're looking forward to that. We've got good numbers now – it's good for us having a good amount of people turning up.
"Mind you, all teams improve during the year."
Kickoff is 12.45pm in Whanganui.
Around the grounds
COLLEGIATE: The final placings for the 96th Quadrangular Tournament, hosted by Whanganui Collegiate, were identical to 2021. On Monday, Collegiate lost 47-33 to Christ's College, going into Wednesday's Minor Final with Wellington College, who they just defeated 15-13 with a late penalty. On Monday, Wellington had lost 34-31 to defending champions Nelson College, who duly went to retain the title in the Major Final on Wednesday with a comfortable 48-7 win over Christ's.
HILL: Kaierau RFC and St Johns Whanganui Metro player Carlos Hill has been selected to attend the NZR National Maori Under 18 development camp in Rotorua on July 17-20. Hill attended one of five Regional E Tu Toa camps in April to earn his selection.