Hankins semifinals promise surprises
The Hankins Shield semi-finals have a habit of tossing up surprises and upsets which should have both this weekend’s hosts on edge.
Feilding Yellows and Feilding Old Boys’Oroua have earned their billing as the top two sides in the competition and will head into the weekend as favourties against Varsity and Kia Toa respectively.
But the top two finishing in round robin play have not both been in the final since 2015.
In fact, in the last two years, no team that has hosted a semi-final has made it to the final.
The most common feature of semi-finals weekend is Kia Toa somehow getting the win.
They have been to five consecutive finals.
That knock-out experience will be key when they come up against a FOB-Oroua side that has not tasted Hankins knockout rugby since 2010.
Kia Toa are back to full strength at the right time.
With Jade Te Rure at first five-eighth, game-breaker Jono Ihaka at centre and in-form wing Malua Mauola, they have a backline that can score plenty of points.
The biggest battle for them will be handling FOB-Oroua’s forward pack.
The Stags have mastered set-piece in the back end of the year which has helped them set a strong platform for their backline.
They have an impressive bench with Sean Paranihi, George Macpherson and Ollie Brosnahan all set to spark the side in the second half.
Varsity have limped their way into the top four, but Yellows fans would be silly to write off the regular title-contenders.
Varsity have named almost the same side that they ran out in last weekend’s must-win match against COB.
But they do have impressive flanker Michael Halatuituia back on deck.
Yellows will turn to their big forward pack to control the game with Sean Rankin and Luke Clarke starring all season.
No 8 Sam Wasley is their man to watch, while Ben Wyness is likely to score points in bulk.
In the Val Holland playoffs the results are similarly tough to pick.
A big question will be how Old Boys-Marist and College Old Boys handle the disappointment of missing the top four.
Te Kawau, in particular, will be a good chance of knocking over last season’s Hankins champs.
All season the Real Blokes have looked like a chance of knocking off the contenders.
Few players have been in as strong club form as Liam Mitchell and Adam Boult.
Linton Army face their usual struggles to find numbers for their match against COB, but they will likely have halfback TeJay Oliver and centre Jared Deal who are central to their chances.
COB have Awatere Kiwara back from Hurricanes Under 18 camp, but they are missing James Tofa for the match.