Hankins Shield set to be a nail-biter
The Hankins Shield final looks set to be a delicately place contest as the consistent Feilding Yellows take on the surging Varsity.
Yellows have looked on track for a return to the McDonalds Manawatu Senior One Club Rugby final all season with their well-balanced squad.
But for Varsity, they can thank a late season swing in form after slouching in the middle of the season.
While the Sky Blues will head in as the underdogs, they are well matched with Yellows and will full of confidence having rolled Centennial Shield winners College Old Boys in the semi-finals.
At near full strength, it is hard to pick a weakness in the Varsity squad.
They have two dynamic props in Atonio Walker-Leawere and Sam Tufuga along with a fit and in form hooker in Nick Grogan which will sit up a good battle up front against Yellows powerful combo of Sean Rankin, Harry Jones and Luke Clarke.
Tom Hughes has been named at lock alongside Ian Burmeister, but the latter may make way for Mickey Woolliams if he can push through the ankle injury, he picked up in the Evergreens’ 80-7 win over the Defence Blacks on Wednesday.
Their loose forward trio sees workhorse Kirk Tufuga start alongside turnover specialist Doug Juszczyk and exciting young prospect Dylan Hall.
Yellows will match that with their hardworking locks Nick Crosswell and Kere Marino along with three dynamic ball carriers in Hayden Stratford, Sam Wasley and Zane Dallinger.
Turbos hopeful Griffin Culver starts at halfback while Ben Wyness will be looking forward to making his mark on the final having missed last year’s when he broke his leg in the semi-final.
That 9-10 combination may be where Yellows take the upper hand.
Varsity are missing top halfbacks Regan Sword and Bryn Wilson. While Potene Rolls-Paewai is proving to be a player to watch in the future, Yellows will target the first-year-out-of-school No 9.
Nick Birchfield has plenty of experience in the No 10 jersey and will need to bring his best kicking game if he is to counter Wyness game-management.
Yellows will rely on their young guns Josiah Maraku and Drew Wild to provide them with penetration in the backline, but veteran Matt Dalley and the deceptively elusive Carlos Ropoama-Third will threaten.
Brad Carr finished the season as the leading points scorer and his goalkicking will be crucial for Yellows.
Varsity have both Hamish Northcortt and Te Rangatira Waitokia starting after they were cleared of concussion following their head clash on Wednesday.
Ueta Tufuga and Jayden Falcon have had strong club campaigns, while Korie Winters has plenty of x-factor on the wing.