Local rivalry to open club season

The 2021 McNamara Cup season opens on Saturday with Pukekohe Mitre 10 Mega hosting Patumahoe Troydon Patumahoe Hotel at Colin Lawrie Fields in the first Counties Power Game of the Week.

Both sides will fancy their chances of playing in the semi-finals this season but are flying under the radar a touch heading into the season.

Former Super Rugby player Sean Polwart returns for a third season at the helm of Pukekohe and will look to reap the rewards from the groundwork laid over the past two seasons.

“We have built a young team,” Polwart said. “We started almost from scratch last year. It was a disrupted year last year and that is why all the boys are hungry to give it another crack this year.

“We have been able to add some pieces to our young core.

“We have added a couple of loose forwards and a lock, who is currently injured.

“The main shift is our trainer Rob, who came onboard last year and everyone got a feel for him but we have added the gym this year and so around our conditioning – we are fitter than we have been in previous years.

“Patty and Puke are typically under-sized boys so it will be a fast, free running game of footy.”

The new format for the McNamara Cup means this weekend might be the only contest between the two sides this season and given early season predictions, the two sides could be fighting for a playoff spot so there is a lot riding on the opening match.

“I think the Patty v Puke rivalry is awesome,” Polwart said. “Most of the boys know each other. We know their coaching staff and obviously they have Reon back and that will change the dynamic this year – they will be well-coached.

“When we play Patty it is a crucial game.

“Because it is a more compressed format this year every game counts.

“Especially with the week off at Easter we can tell the boys to go out and leave everything out there.”

Reon Graham returns as coach of Patumahoe after a season on the side lines. Graham enjoyed a successful run with the club, including taking the club to the 2012 McNamara Cup title and reaching the final in 2018.

Long-serving Bombay halfback Liam Daniela has made the move to play under father-in-law Graham and will form a superb inside backs combination with skipper Riley Hohepa.

Experienced rep hooker Joe Royal returns to bolster the squad and provide forward leadership while PIC Steeler Dylan Leckner has moved across from Papakura in the off-season.

“It was quite good for me having that year off – it was a bit rough for a few reasons,” Graham said of the lost 2020 season.

“It is a cliché but we have a great mix of youth and experience. A lot of our boys that are still quite young have played over 100 games. We have some good players coming through from our U21s and some good recruits that have come to us from other clubs that will add something.

“It is going to be good to see the 9-10 crew go for the first time in club rugby and quite exciting to see how they drive things for us. Also, guys like Lionel Evans at tighthead prop, who just goes about his business and is doing a really good job and lock Chals Palelei is still U21s eligible and I am looking forward to him having a big year.

“It is great having Joe Royal back to help out as well.”

There is always something special when the two neighbouring sides meet and Graham is expecting the usual tough encounter, though coming so early in the season and with a disrupted pre-season his expectations are measured.

“A third pre-season to be honest,” he laughed. “It has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of prep with weddings, people still enjoying summer and COVID and all of that.

“We are looking forward to the local derby with our Puke cousins but also getting into the new clubrooms and testing them out for the first time.”

Pukekohe opened their new clubrooms late last year and will be a welcome addition to the 2021 season.

Reigning champions Bombay Super Freight will host premiership newcomers Weymouth up the hill while 2018 champions Ardmore Marist South Auckland Motors host Manurewa Kidd Contracting in a mouth-watering clash between two of the competition favourites.

Onewhero travels to Karaka Sports Complex while Waiuku Land & Sea Civil meets Papakura at Rugby Park to complete week one fixtures.