The emergence of the Under 85kg grade in Counties Manukau rugby has been a huge success over the past few seasons and a mouth-watering clash between two leading sides serves as the Counties Power Game of the Week this week.
Patumahoe Pak N Save have dominated the grade – winning the past three championships under head coach Brad Healy but the competitiveness of the grade has become a lot tighter in recent times.
Healy’s side beat a spirited Karaka side in last year’s championship final and the rematch at Karaka Sports Complex this weekend is one that both sides have been waiting for all summer.
“The whole squad has talked about it being the main game they want to win,” Karaka coach Shane Lovell said. “They want to beat them and I think we only beat them once last season so they would like to get one up on them.
“I think there has always been a rivalry. There are a few former Karaka boys playing for them now so there is definitely a rivalry.”
Karaka started the season with a win in their opening game before a surprise loss to Papakura last weekend.
Lovell puts the result down to it being early season and the teams not quite being at their best.
“We gave up 10 points to lose 13-10 so the boys are hurting. They are keen to get into it at training this week and then right the wrongs on Saturday.”
For Patumahoe the game serves as their first major test after successive wins to start the season. They are still missing some key personnel but get a couple of guys back this weekend.
“We’ve got probably about six or seven new guys this where, which is really good,” Healy said. “Some youth and some guys that haven’t played rugby for a while but they are really putting their hands up and proving themselves.”
Healy expects Karaka to be especially fired up for this game given they lost the final to Patumahoe last season.
“There are a lot of mates between the two teams. Last year they were finalists and we one-all going into that final last year so we got one up on them. We know they will be targeting this game big – not a must-win but to get one back on us.
“It is going to be hard, it is going to be very tough. There are a lot of physical players that will go out there and put their bodies on the line for both clubs.”
Healy has had the biggest impact on the grade having coached the Counties Manukau Under 85kg rep side the past couple of seasons. The introduction of that rep side has been a big boost to the club competition and the grade as a whole has grown with it becoming a seven-team competition in 2018.
“It has definitely gotten a lot bigger,” Healy said. “It was hard to get recognition the first couple of years but having a rep grade at the end of the season gives everyone something to strive for.
“This year will be even stronger – having another team like Pukekohe, that has got great senior teams above them, will help our club competition and the rep scene later in the year.”
In other fixtures Onewhero Bottle’O Tuakau host Pukekohe while Waiuku travels to Papakura. Bombay Lincoln Farms have the bye.
In Premier 1 action Karaka hosts Ardmore Marist South Auckland Motors in a top-of-the-table clash. Onewhero Silver Fern Marquees look to bounce back from last week’s loss at home to Papakura Ray White. Patumahoe Troydon Patumahoe Hotel hosts Manurewa while Bombay travels to Waiuku Brian James Contracting.