HOW THEY LINE UP
SEMIFINAL NO 1
NEW PLYMOUTH OLD BOYS
v SPOTSWOOD UNITED
Vogeltown Park, New Plymouth
Referee: Will Johnston
NPOB: Logan Rei, Paddy Pale, James Loto, Liam McBride (captain), Jackson Carrington, Daniel Waite, David Ormrod, Hamish Alabaster, Lachlan Boshier, Giovanni Habel-Kueffner-Mulitato, Fin Hoeata, Hamish Mitchell, Reuben O’Neill, Caleb Mawson, Jeremy Burton. Reserves, Willie McBride, James McKerrow, Matt Wallace, Thomas McIroy or Dave Riley, Luke Devilliers, Jayden Ford, Richard Darney.
SPOTSWOOD UTD: Brayden Byrne, Latu Vaeno, Nick Arnold, Nick Standen, Manasa Mataele, Josh Hamilton (co-captain), Michael Reid, Toa Halafihi (co-captain), Tristan Lahmert, Michiah Torrance-Read, Blake Irving, Ethan Perrett or Gareth Maulder, Jared Profit, Paul Hooper, Bradley Chubb. Reserves, Shaye Hill, Tyrone Huffam, Maulder or Nathan Ashworth, Jarrod Cameron, Mathew Webling, Puna Joseph, Phillip Barraclough.
SEMIFINAL NO 2
TUKAPA v INGLEWOOD
Sanders Park, New Plymouth
Referee: Richard Kelly
TUKAPA: Jayson Potroz, Henry Miles, Pomare Samupo, Daniel Bernet, Oti Wilson, Jack Cameron, Ryan Bishop, Adrian Wyrill, Sam Shaw, Leighton Price (captain), Steven Needham, Alec Dravitski, Baxter King, Liam Bernet, Laurence Corlett. Reserves, John Frederick, Ben Siffleet, Corbin Porteous, Shay Moon, Scott Crocker, Eli Kneepkens, Dave Devilliers.
INGLEWOOD: Avon Lewis, Lachlan Bunn, Ben Leng, Blake Hohaia, Telly Hemopo, Cody Hall, Chris Bayens, Mark Neilson, Berny Hall (captain), Mitchell Brown, Brendon Lyon, Cam Gall, Lance White, Rhys Marshall, Mac Ritchie. Reserves, Harry Jones, Lopi Lilomaiava, Jack White, Jason Rolfe, Ryan Hucker, Cole Brown.
New Plymouth Old Boys do not have to think too far back to remember what it feels like to be the dominant premier club team throughout the regular season only to have their title hopes ripped away.
Twelve months ago they went into their semifinal against Inglewood as top qualifiers, had enjoyed five successive wins and were more than warm favourites to advance to the grand final.
Those dreams came crashing down on a sodden Vogeltown Park against desperately committed opposition.
The script for Saturday’s semifinal against Spotswood United is strikingly similar, although it could be argued their opposition this time around lacks the abrasiveness they faced a year before.
However, Old Boys co-coach Michael Carr was not drawing any similarities.
Instead, he was encouraging the players to get out and enjoy the occasion, express themselves and stick to the patterns of play that has seen their 2015 record stand at 12 wins and just two losses.
“From year to year every group is different and they have different dynamics, so it’s irrelevant,” he said. “We just have to go out there and enjoy it but concentrate on what we have to do.”
Carr was certainly happy with the squad they could put out to face Spotswood United, with the only real blows coming after Codey Rei was selected in the Maori All Blacks and New Zealand Under-20 halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi became unavailable because he was selected in the Barbarians.
Although Rei’s absence was a significant loss, younger brother Logan has consistently shown he was a real talent in the making as he has got better as each week has passed. There was also the bonus of former New Zealand age-group prop Reuben O’Neill being available after a long injury lay-off.
“I think our back three has operated really well all year off the back of some good decision making in the inside backs and what the forwards have been doing,” Carr said.
He also dismissed Old Boys beating Spotswood United just last week as having any significance.
“Both teams were always going to play each other twice in the round robin, so it didn’t really matter when it was. We are just really excited about the opportunity we have the challenge in front of us and we know Spotswood are a really good outfit.”
There was also no affirmative answer to whether or not they believed they have a mental edge over their opposition, despite dominating them over recent decades.
“I just think everyone will react to the fact that it is knock-out footy. It’s up to us to control what we want to do and the way we want to try and play the game and they will be doing exactly the same thing.”
Spotswood United have been given a decent boost by the return of co-captain Toa Halafihi from injury.
The Taranaki rep is a major ball carrier in the pack and enjoys not only playing close to the front line but dropping back and returning effectively.
Despite his return, there remains a feeling the Spotswood United pack can be exposed, as they were against Clifton a fortnight ago.
Still, they possess two wings – Latu Vaeno and Manasa Mataele – who can cause havoc from open play, providing they can be given some space.
The second semifinal appears closer to call.
Tukapa have earned a lot of admirers for the way they have bounced back from a difficult start to the season when they dropped four games in succession.
Although their front eight looks inferior to what Inglewood will bring, they thrive on quick ball and have a good balance of youth and experience in a backline that has caused plenty of opposition sides problems.
Tukapa co-coach Laurence Corlett, who will pack down at loosehead prop, said the biggest challenge of what had been a good week of preparation had been keeping the young players excitement levels in check.
As a squad they were keen to meet the aggression Inglewood would bring up front but also keen to try and play their game which evolves around quick ruck ball.
“We hope the ruck will be really well policed,” he said. “We want to use our backs and have a crack. It’s going to take a really gutsy effort and we’ve talked about bringing that right across the board.”
Corlett was putting significant weight in home advantage and believed that could be a key point of difference if things got really tight.
The loose forward match-ups look a highlight, especially after the Tukapa coaches named captain Leighton Price to square off against Mitchell Brown.
Inglewood captain Berny Hall remains one of the most influential figures in the competition when available and he could set the tone of the defence and line speed early, just as he did last year when leading his side to premiership glory.
The most disciplined team could just be the winner and extend their season another week.
★Tukapa utility back Eli Kneepkens has won the Kieran Crowley Cup after he ended the regular season as top points scorer with 175.
Inlgewood’s Cody Hall ended with 132 points, Codey Rei (NPOB) 121, Southern’s Daniel Brooks on 110 and Spotswood United’s Josh Hamilton 107.
Kneepkens and Spotswood United wing Manasa Mataele were top try scoers with nine each. Old Boys team-mates Daniel Waite and Logan Rei ended with eight tries apiece.