The Taranaki club rugby competition started with some surprises last Saturday.
Not too many pundits would have picked Stratford-Eltham to deservedly beat last year’s champions Tukapa, while unbeaten going in to the final in 2016, New Plymouth Old Boys were turned over by Coastal at Rahotu, admittedly a difficult place to play.
Clifton lost at home to Spotswood United and Inglewood were outplayed by Southern on their home turf.
One imagines it is going to be a season of intrigue as teams find their feet and jostle for a position in the top four and a spot the playoffs. Looking at the first week’s results, the eventual winner is clouded in mystery at this stage.
Usually coaches will have success if they have better players than the opposition but this year it just might be down to the coaching and support systems at the club, so the pressure is on. Fortunately for Taranaki rugby and the various clubs, there are many quality individuals in the coaching spots.
The talent is evenly spread with names such as Tim Stuck, Kerry Eynon, Lyall Bunn, Michael Carr, Ra Mako, Rhys Connell, Aaron Fisher and Jason Hooper lending their expertise.
What they and their buddies can come up with over the next 13 weeks will be decisive. It’s a tough old gig out there on cold and wet nights, which requires enthusiasm, people skills and knowledge. Whoever ends up with the biggest smile at the conclusion of the season will have well and truly earned it.
This week’s games will now have some real meaning as there does not appear to be a stand-out.
Coastal and Stratford-Eltham’s match should be a cracker, Southern could possibly provide Tukapa with a tough start to their season, Clifton and Old Boys both lost in week one and won’t want to have q two in the loss column.
After a great start Spotswood United will be looking for another victory at the ‘Dog Pound’ against Inglewood. If you can pick four from four this week you must have psychic powers.
I’m going for Stratford-Eltham, Southern, Clifton and Spotswood United.
With a total of 34 teams in the four divisions, where Toko, Patea, Okaiawa, Bell Block and Kaponga join the big clubs in division two, the days of club rugby being the sport of choice are dwindling, but for those remaining involved, the games are still the highlight of the week.
The heart is pumping. The nerves are on edge. The players and coaches are presenting a calm demeanour and the supporters are niggly. The wives are hopeful that it will be a pleasant Sunday, the chairmen are wishing for a successful game and a big gate and the referees are edgy as they go through the protocols.
Every weekend the same nervous energy is expended. This is the great thing about club rugby. It still belongs to the people and they can be part of something special and have a sense of belonging and nowadays the support at this level is more important than ever.
Good luck to all the clubs. May 2017 treat you wel