Could it be that the stars are aligning on the eve of Farriers Wairarapa-Bush’s biggest game in more than a decade?
With the spectre of injury and suspension hanging over selections all but one outcome has prevailed in Wairarapa-Bush’s favour.
Super-talented lock, come utility forward James Goodger has been cleared to play, Tim Priest is starting in the pivotal number-10 jersey and hooker Abe Haira has had his one match suspension over-turned.
First choice half-back John Ika is the only name head coach Josh Syms was not able to list in his playing squad of 22 for tomorrow’s semi-final showdown with Wanganui.
Rank outsiders for the match, Syms is only too happy to start as underdogs.
“We enjoy playing from behind and as the underdogs, it is an easier place to be than favourites in these situations sometimes,” says an upbeat Syms.
Beaten in Ashburton by South Canterbury in the semi-finals last year, there are many similarities between that fixture and what awaits Wairarapa-Bush in the River City tomorrow.
Like South Canterbury 2015, Wanganui are top qualifiers and run-away favourites with the bookies to kick-on and play the final.
“Last year we were a very naive and youngish side. We lacked a bit of experience and depth in pressure situations . . . we are not that same sort of team 12 months on,” insists Syms.
If there is one team in the 2016 Mitre 10 Heartland Championship that can play pressure footy it is Wairarapa-Bush, they have been doing it since round two following their opening game hiccup against King Country.
“We know what we have to do, we have that experience, and probably the key difference this year is that we expect to win this weekend and train two more times for a Meads Cup final the following Saturday.”
The return of Goodger is a major boost. Take nothing away from Blake Knight who has provided tremendous cover, Goodger is a freakish athlete who can do things that not a lot of other players at this level can do, Syms says.
Felled in the defeat against Buller it was feared Tim Priest was gone for the rest of the season. However, the little general came off the bench against East Coast last weekend and makes the starting XV against Wanganui.
Hooker Richard Puddy, outstanding again last weekend, starts ahead of Abe Haira. But with little difference between these two class players expect to see the latter sometime in the second half.
The only other change is that of wing Robbie Anderson replacing Peni Rokoduguni on the bench, picked because of his experience and superior defensive capabilities.
Expect also to see a better performance from Iziq Foa’i. The big second-five eighth from Tasman was below par against East Coast after having two teeth extracted earlier in the week.
It will be the fourth time in five seasons that Wairarapa-Bush has played in the Meads Cup semi-finals, having lost all of the previous three. They have only ever won the Meads Cup once, the inaugural season in 2016. Go the Bush!