Defending champions open season with tough wins

Defending champions open season with tough wins

Last year’s Senior Shield co-champions Westport and White Star have opened their seasons with tight victories against Old Boys and Reefton respectively in the Westreef Services senior rugby competition. Played in stunning conditions at Reefton and Victoria Square, there were plenty of early season tries for the excellent crowds to feast on.

Reefton 27 White Star 32
With time expired on the clock at the Rosco Contractors rugby grounds in Reefton, and the home side trailing by 5 points, it took a special heads up play by White Star player/coach Callum Lennon who stripped the ball from the grasp of a Reefton player in the in-goal area to deny Reefton the chance to claim a special victory.

It was indeed the home side who made the better start to the fixture as they used their strong front-row ball carriers Hemi Manawatu, Michael O’Regan and Hayden White to get over the gain line.  After sustained pressure, they were rewarded with the first points as Thor Manawatu burrowed his way over from close range.

White Star were able to hit back shortly after off the back of some strong bursts from Anthony Ellis and Taine Brownlee who were finding good metres through the middle of the field. Iliesa Tora was the benefactor of that work through the middle when he strolled over to tie the scores at 5-5.

The early see saw battle was in full motion when Thor Manawatu launched a monstrous 45m drop goal to take the home side ahead only to see their lead vanish before the halftime break as Brownlee scored a try. A surprise goal kicking change had front rower Ellis convert and White Star led at the break 12-8.

After the break, the halftime oranges had barely left the field as firstly Tora added a try inside the opening minute before Stanley Reedy crashed over to extend the White Star lead to 22-8. The game at this point got a bit scrappy with various interactions taking place between the sides. In the end, referee Phil Grafton settled the situation by going to his pocket. After the resumption, the local crowd was treated to a spectacular try by Luke Barrow who went 60 metres to score and close the gap to 22-15.

Just as Reefton had started to entertain the thoughts of getting parity on the scoreboard, a charge down deep inside their territory resulted in an easy try to Stanley Reedy who picked up a brace of tries. With Ellis knocking over the conversion, again the margin spread to 14 points with the game heading inside the last quarter.

Reefton veteran and super sub Stu Banks found his way on the park and then shortly after, over the whitewash after sustained pressure on the Star line. The Manawatu conversion again had Reefton back within striking distance as the local crowd started to find their voice. Some poor discipline again cost Reefton, as they found themselves down to 14 players. Ellis extended the lead with a penalty to push the scoreline beyond a converted try with time ticking down.

With only a couple of minutes remaining, Bevan Thomson set up the grandstand finish by scoring a try to get the home side within 5 points. From the resulting kick-off, Reefton were able to string together a huge phase of play to camp down on the White Star line for the final play of the match. With the line open and an outstanding comeback victory on the cards, Reefton were denied by the smallest of margins as they got to the in-goal area only to have the ball robbed away.

It was a great spectacle in Reefton and both clubs will walk away from the game with plenty of positives and be much better for the first 80 minutes under their belts.

Westport 36 Old Boys 20
A lightening fast start by Old Boys had Westport under the pump on Saturday, however the bumblebee’s were able to regroup and come back to sting their opponents in the second half.

For the first 30 minutes, Old Boys controlled most of the territory and possession with some excellent work through the middle led by Corey Malone, Jack Aldridge and captain Ben Pratt. From that platform, Old Boys were able to make some good gains in the backs off the front foot ball. Playmaker Jesse Pitman-Joass was the main benefactor as firstly he kicked a penalty goal to open the scoring, before he sliced his way through to score and convert for an early 10 points to nil lead. A further penalty at the half hour mark gave Old Boys a 13-0 lead and their tails well and truly up.

Westport were then able to start to get their hands on the ball for an extended time and put pressure back on Old Boys. The Westport front row of Stephen Crackett, Peter Foote and Brad Hawes were carrying the ball strong with their locks and loosies able to clean the ruck efficiently giving them much needed speed at the ruck. The sustained pressure amounted to a late try in the first half to Mitieli Kaloudigibeci, which was converted by Flynn Aldridge to close the gap to 13-7 at half time.

Westport seemed to gain a big momentum shift just before the break and that continued into the second half as they flew out of the gates to score three tries inside the first 15 minutes to absorb the Old Boys lead and then put some daylight on the scoreboard at 24-13. Front rowers Hawes and Crackett had each grabbed a meat pie and Kaloudigibeci had picked up his second. The Westport midfield by this stage was proving dangerous with Joel Hands and Kaloudigibeci combining well.

Westport extended the lead to 29-13 when fullback Aldridge provided the crowd with some entertainment scoring an incredible individual try as Westport put the hammer down. Just when it appeared the writing might have been on the wall, Old Boys skipper Pratt was able to give the game some late life with a try that was converted by Pitman-Joass to close the gap to 29-20 inside the final 10 minutes. Any chance of a final come back was quickly diminished when Kaloudigibeci crossed for his third try of the afternoon to seal the game. Aldridge’s conversion, giving him a personal tally of 11 points for the game closed the scoring at 36-20 bringing down the curtain on a full day of rugby in the Buller.

Westport assistant coach Chris Aldridge was incredibly proud of the young members of the Westport side paying special mention to Kye Neame playing his first senior game. Also impressive were Flynn Meadowcroft, Nathan Palmer and Maddox Manawatu who was charged with running the ship at five-eighth.

Old Boys coach Nathan Rakena had plenty of positives to reflect on with the impressive performances of his forwards Malone, Aldridge and Haami Commons. Once the side was able to spend some time together at training they had the ability to put some good performances together this year.

Next weekend, all four teams will play at Victoria Square with a double header starting from 1:30pm.

Players of the Day:
Westport: Joel Hands and Mitieli Kaloudigibeci
Old Boys: Corey Malone and Jack Aldridge
Reefton: John William Thomas and Luke Barrow
White Star: Keir Barry and Blake Potter

West Coast scores:
Marist 17 Wests 42
Kiwi 69 Blaketown 0
South Westland 19 Grey Valley 36