Brought to you by Whanganui Rugby
It was fitting that the great rivalry of the past two seasons in MRU Colts rugby played out in such a gripping final chapter, but when the smoke cleared, St Johns Whanganui Metro brought the Gordon Brown Memorial Cup home on Saturday.
Facing defending champions the Feilding Yellows at the Massey University grounds, having split their games this season, Metro came from behind to win 20-16 – continuing the cycle of winning the Manawatū championship in the third season of the current coaching and playing group.
Established in 2016 by Carl Gibson and Darryl Malcolm, Metro first won the MRU Colts title in 2018, with Mark Cosford and Russell Gedye taking over the following season and taking the new core through another three years of playoffs to regain the crown.
First five Joey Devine, who is off to Marist next season, made full use of a penalty advantage to snap off a drop goal to level the scores 3-3, before the Yellows dropped his attacking kick and the Metro chasers were right there to fire the ball out to speedster Jack O'Leary - who dashed off to the corner for his 28th try of the season.
But keeping the ball in tight, away from Metro's flyers, the Yellows came back strongly, getting a penalty and then scoring a converted try off the ruck-and-maul to lead 13-8 at halftime.
Metro came back out firing with winger Cody Davy scoring under the posts, converted by Devine but, having pulled the favourites into a tight contest, the Yellows popped over another penalty for an eerie 16-15 – the identical scoreline to the first game of the year and Metro's only defeat.
"We were all freaking out, thinking 'this can't be'," said Cosford.
"Things weren't sticking. Put it this way, it wasn't the best game we've played this season.
"But their D was incredible, keeping that big Feilding pack out."
The team, which had vowed after last year's heartbreaking loss in the final that they would not be denied in 2021, dug deep to find a way – with reserve halfback Jerome McKenna scoring to regain the lead with 12 minutes left.
Buoyed on by their sideline, Metro held back the yellow-and-black tide throughout the final stages to set up scenes of unrestrained joy at the fulltime whistle.
"The huge support was unreal – we had half of Whanganui down here," said Cosford.
"A lot of hard work, and that's the reward - Russell and I are really proud."
At least eight of this squad will now move on to other rugby opportunities within either the WRFU or MRU, with Marist, Kaierau and Border some of the likely landing spots.
Around the grounds
JUNIOR REP: The Whanganui Under 14 team had real competition at the Heartland Development Camp in Taupō last week. On Tuesday, Whanganui defeated Poverty Bay 25-7 and East Coast 29-7. On Wednesday they took on hosts King Country and lost 34-5.
COLLEGIATE: The Whanganui Collegiate 1st XV's resumption of the CNI tournament did not go well with a 30-12 loss to second-place St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton on Saturday. The defeat leaves Collegiate in fourth spot but still five points clear of the chasing pack, with their last round-robin game against Feilding High this Saturday.
TARANAKI: Former Steelform Whanganui and Border winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone made it two wins in six days at Cooks Gardens as his new Taranaki Bulls team beat the Wellington Lions 24-14 in their NPC pre-season game on Friday. Fellow Whanganui ex-pat Stephen Perofeta was at fullback, scoring a try he also converted.
MANAWATŪ: Whanganui ex-pat Hollyrae Mete-Renata was in the Manawatū Cyclones side that made a great start to the Farah Palmer Cup with a 48-5 win over Taranaki at CET Arena on Saturday. Meanwhile, there were many Whanganui connections in the Manawatū Turbos who played a game of three halves with Auckland and Waikato in Taupō. Former All Black Brett Cameron, Ben Strang, Jason Myers and Griffin Culver all played, while recent Samoan international Tietie Tuimauga was rested.
NAHOLO: Whanganui's former winger and 27-test All Black Waisake Naholo has signed to play for Canterbury in the upcoming NPC competition. Naholo returned to New Zealand to play club rugby in Dunedin after injury and the Covid-19 epidemic limited his appearances for London Irish to four games in two seasons.