Contenders jockey for playoff places
Varsity head into round 15 of McDonalds Manawatu Senior One Club Rugby with a prime opportunity to slip back inside the top four.
The Sky Blues face fellow semi-finals aspirants Kia Toa in a match that looms key for both side’s hopes.
For Kia Toa, the match is a must-win with a loss knocking them out of contention.
Aiding the causes of both sides is that the two teams above them – Feilding Old Boys-Oroua and Old Boys-Marist – play each other this weekend.
Varsity will head into battle without Hamish Northcott who is away captaining the New Zealand Ambassadors squad. But their backline still has plenty of talent with Ueta Tufuga a key in the midfield.
They have Mickey Woolliams back at lock and, along with Tom Hughes, facing a big battle at lineout time against the experienced combination of Kingsley Teppett and Fraser Stone.
Kia Toa continue to deal with a long list of unavailablities which have hampered the team all season. The likes of Jackson Iose, Brayden Iose, Lifeimi Mafi, Michael Tagicakibau and Jade Te Rure are not players easy to replace.
But they do have Atu Henare back from his broken arm and he will have plenty to play for with the Turbos still yet to decide on their second halfback.
Feilding Old Boys-Oroua will finally be able to unleash the Prince of Pace Junior Laloifi in 2019.
Laloifi, who played a key role in FOB-Oroua’s Hankins Shield run, returned to the Stags last month but injuries have seen him sidelined since.
But his return along with Shai Wiperi gives their backline a bit more of attacking spark to go with dangerous attackers Jamie Perigo and Blair Osborne.
Old Boys-Marist have stuck with much of the side that fell to College Old Boys last week.
But Anthony Guerin comes in at starting prop, Chris Long at lock and Matene Ruawai at flanker.
They have been well-served by Linton Army recruits TeJay Oliver and Jared Deal since they have come on deck.
Feilding are almost certainly set for a second-place finish, but they will be determined to get on a positive roll before the playoffs.
After a shock loss to Varsity, there will be no lack of motivation when they host Te Kawau.
They have most of their regulars on deck for the match, but Te Kawau still loom as a dangerous opponent.
Had Te Kawau not picked up penalty points and had this same playing group on deck from the start of the competition, they would likely be competing for a semi-final place.
Instead they will settle for the role of spoiler to other team’s charges.
Adam Boult found his tryscoring form last week and is their key weapon, while Sam Stewart returns to the starting side and will lead the pack.
College Old Boys face a similar scenario to Feilding as they head to Freyberg this weekend.
With top spot seemingly a certainty, their motivation is to take some positive momentum into the playoffs.
Patrick Tafili-Reid, James Tofa, Andre Taylor, Michael Walsh and Johnny Galloway are among the players who will sit this week out.
Up front their will be interest in how Japanese tighthead prop Sunao Takizawa performs against Turbos loosehead Fa’alelei Sione.
The backline sees the return of dangerous midfielder Cyrus Baker.
Freyberg have named much the same side who push Te Kawau close in the first half last week.
Sione’s return to prop means Lolo Liu Lio is promoted back to the starting side on the flank.