Manurewa Kidd Contracting and Patumahoe Troydon Patumahoe Hotel will kick off the return to rugby in the Counties Power Game of the Week at Mountfort Park on Saturday.
The nearly three-month break has had a big impact on most clubs with some players having to withdraw from playing this season for various reasons as life became more important than rugby.
Manurewa coach Jeremy Clark said the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation has made it difficult to plan a return to playing and the feeling among players has continued to evolve as the situation changed.
“I guess it has been uncertain times,” Clark said. “No one has ever been through these sorts of things and the hardest thing was trying to keep a group of men motivated when there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
“We didn’t really know when things were coming back to normal – I guess they’re coming back to normal now – but everything was shifting so much we didn’t know if there was even going to be any rugby.
“Boys had lost jobs during that period and I understand that rugby becomes secondary when you have to support a family. Some boys have moved on and got jobs which is totally understandable.
“We are looking a bit different to round one but we will find out Saturday whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.”
The two sides have enjoyed a closely fought rivalry in recent seasons and have met in some games that have had major consequences on the championship standings and this week will be no different.
But in a shortened season the importance of the fixture becomes even more relevant.
“It is a shortened season and the option of coming back late in the second round or building is out the window now,” Clark said. “It is basically a sprint".
“I think it is a lottery to be honest. It is like a new pre-season really. It may not be pretty but anything could happen.”
Both sides started the campaign with wins back in March but have been waiting like everyone else to get back into the action ever since. The squads have changed a little bit as players pulled out for various reasons while a few additional players have become available with overseas travel no longer possible.
Patumahoe coach Siua Pole admits he doesn’t know quite where his side is at after the break but concedes all teams are in the same boat.
“We have got some new personnel – a couple of guys coming back from overseas but we have also lost a few guys that lost jobs or lost motivation during lockdown,” he said.
“Our first training you could see the energy. I think guys were dying to get out of the house and start running around with the footy.
“You just take the games as they come. With the squad we have now, we have put our focus on making every second count after lockdown.
“Manurewa are massive – we definitely won’t underestimate them on Saturday. They have a big, powerful pack and some skilful backs.
“It is a big game for us.”
Meanwhile a big crowd is expected as supporters are able to get back out and watch live sport for the first time in a number of months.
“We had a hit out against College Rifles last weekend and I would have to say the crowd was one of the bigger ones I’ve seen over the last couple of seasons,” Clarke said.
First up winners Waiuku Brian James Contracting host Karaka, Ardmore Marist South Auckland Motors open their campaign with a visit to Onewhero Summit Homes while Mitre 10 Mega Pukekohe hosts Papakura at Colin Lawrie Fields in the other McNamara Cup fixtures. Premier 1 games kick off at 2:45pm.
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