Brought to you by Whanganui Rugby
It is the most anticipated clash of the Tasman Tanning Senior season so far, but for Harvey Round Motors Ratana, it might only be one more step on their way back to a larger stage.
Undefeated on the field for the past one and a half seasons, although officially with one loss on their record after the regrettable situation of fielding a transferring player too early, Ratana hope to go top of the table against perennial Senior favourites Kelso Hunterville on Saturday.
Despite playing at the B level after they self-relegated out of Premier following a continuous cycle of bottom-table campaigns, the optics for Ratana are now much more positive for their proud community.
"That was our plan last year – to rebuild, targeted for two seasons, not just the team but the culture, and bringing back the supporters," said assistant coach Charlie Mete.
Whether or not they repeat as Senior champions, Ratana will then reassess if it is time they return to a Premier competition, which has shrunk to just six teams – they definitely want to be there by their 100th anniversary in 2024.
"We want to increase the [Premier] numbers to make Whanganui rugby strong, not just Ratana rugby."
Mete said otherwise good players will always leave home if there's a chance of higher honours with a Premier club, as prop Shade Tuaine-Whanau and midfielder Jamie Robertson departed with good wishes to join Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist this season.
Others to leave were former Steelform Whanganui representatives Kane Tamou and Cody Hemi, who honoured their old club by returning to play last season because there was no Heartland Championship.
"But we've got a few inclusions that more than make up for those losses," Mete said.
Among those are their talisman coach and another former Whanganui champion Leon Mason, who is back on the active roster, while Neihana Christian has returned from Australia.
"The backline is more than capable of replacing [the departed]," said Mete.
It sets the table for the big clash with Hunterville, who have rebuilt themselves after the new-look squad came fifth in 2020.
"Hunterville have set the standard for the past few years of Senior. People say 'they should go up', but it is their decision," said Mete.
Ratana's first home win over Ali Arc Logistics-DNA Kennels Marist Celtic (30-3) was bookended by tough trips to Memorial Park where they just held off Bennett's Taihape (29-22) and Utiku Old Boys (19-12).
The 47-22 win over Ruapehu was overturned for the ineligible player debuting during his stand-down period, which also cost Ratana the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield.
Since then, they have been on a tear, running through Border (64-0), Black Bull Liquor Pirates (59-7), Marist Buffalo's (52-5) and Speirs Food Marton (64-14).
The Senior draw is:
June 18, 1pm kick-offs (times subject to change): Counties v Border, McNab Domain; Pirates v Buffalos, Racecourse 1; Celtic v Kaierau, Spriggens Park; Ratana v Hunterville, Ratana Pa; Utiku OB v Marton, Memorial Park 1; Ruapehu v Taihape, Ohakune.