From Tighthead Ted’s crystal ball.

Don’t try and tell ole Tighthead that he’s not excited, only two sleeps to go until the 2024 edition of the McClinchy Cup kicks off. Paeroa taking on the unbeaten juggernaut that is Waihi Athletic . Waihi, unbeaten this season. Paeroa, two losses, both to Waihi. Does it get any better? Or worse, should Paeroa hand Waihi their first loss of the season. We’ve all seen it happen, and it’s not pretty. Just last season for example, Whangamata lost to Hauraki North 5-52 in the opening round before going on to beat the Blue Bulls 33-20 in the final, a huge turnaround in just over three months.

History lesson over, on to the big show, and who will win. With my mind as sharp as a tack before the evening libation kicks, in, I’ll have to be quick and brief, or this could end in tears. To get the thoughts on this great match straight in my head after a season of rugby watching, and getting the telegrams from my sources and informants on a Sunday morning, as to who did what to who and when they did, a little bit of structure might be in order.

So, to kick things off we’ll start where matches are won and lost, the low numbers, one, two and three.

Waihi have been well served all season in the low number department, and the recent return to the Valley of Te Huia Kutia has added more firepower to an already powerful front row. James Mahi at loosehead prop has been a ball runner in the Steve McDowell mode all season (look him up youngsters, he was the original raging bull), and a decent scrummager. Matty Petterd, a huge block of a man has hit some fine form of late, and you also have Brad Nightingale packing down at three or two playing the best rugby of his career. The only weak spot has been at hooker, where Waihi have Josh Tye, and then daylight in the throwing department, Tye hopefully will be over his hamstring tear of a few weeks back, as without Tye on the darts, Waihi have had to revert to flanker Kenan GIlson throwing, which disrupts the rest of the pack selections.

Paeroa also have a powerful front three and bench. The return in recent weeks of Brooklin Toia at hooker has added some more firepower to the pack, and freed up powerhouse Oneone Faafau to pack down at eight. Toia has been in great form with ball in hand, and loves tackling more than Joanie loves Chachi (look it up youngsters, a poor spin off from Happy Days – look it up too). Like Waihi, Paeroa have a fleet of top props to fill in jerseys one and three. Johnson McKain at tighthead is an immovable object, and despite looking like he shouldn’t last more than 40 minutes a match, churns out 80 quality ones on a weekly basis. His regular loosehead partner, Bryson Williams is also a solid practitioner of the dark arts, and a quality ball player. Suifua Tofa on the bench last week is also a powerful man in the close quarter stuff and dangerous with the ball in hand.

A tough call on who will have the advantage here at scrum time. If Tye starts, I think Waihi has an advantage. If Tye is on the bench, then advantage Paeroa. No pressure, me old mucker, but you need to start!!

Around the field, Mahi’s ball running is balanced out by Toia’s bowling ball impersonations while carrying. The rest of the fatties all have their moments, so I think this would be called evens, no advantage.

Waihi have had one of the better lock pairings all season in Dylan Horne and Ben Mellow. Horne has slotted into lock like a natural, ball carrying and tackling like a Brad Thorne, looking like he loves what he does from THT’s sideline perch. Ben Mellow has been the Waihi lineout kingpin, dismantling more than one opposing teams lineout through the season. He picked the Thames lineout apart in the first round, taking four on the trot on their throw, and must have the most steals this club season of any player. Slotting into the second row on occasion has been Matt Axtens, mainly to allow Gilson to start on the flank for his lineout throwing while Tye was injured.

Paeroa have a solid second row pairing in Manusamoa Leota and Ionatana Telea Faaleaoga. Certainly not natural out and out lineout options, but powerful at scrum time, and both great ball carriers with good ball skills, you wouldn’t target them in a defensive lineup, as their tackling is fearless! They’ll need to be clever at lineout time to secure their own ball – Toia’s throwing will have to be pinpoint.

Advantage Waihi at the set piece, advantage Paeroa in general play.

Matt Axtens, Brett Ranga and Isaac Seiuli have been the regular’s for Waihi, with Kenan Gilson slotting in at seven when needed. A very handy foursome – power, experience, pace, nouse. These guys are the heart and soul of Waihi – if Paeroa can stop them getting on a roll and winning the big moments, that will go a long way to winning the game. In Axtens and Ranga you have bus stopping defence, lineout winning skills and crafty ball running. Seiuli has been devastating at times off the back of the scrum, and when Gilson gets game time he tackles everything that moves at least once in the match, the nearest thing to a perpetual motion machine I have seen in a long time.

Paeroa though has a secret weapon of their own. Not so secret though, Oneone Faafou, a cross between an Ox and a Lion, with a bit off Rhino thrown in. When he gets the bit between his teeth while ball running, it’s a pretty sight for the Green Machine supporters, but not so much for defenders. His try against Waihi two weeks ago when he ran 30 metres through the Waihi pack will not be a fond memory for the Aces. Oshea Te Oka-Cox at openside is another sound technician who goes for the full 80 minutes, tackling himself to a standstill and keeping opposing tens honest. The loss of big Silao Talimao will be felt, but last week William Faasavalu slotted into the six jersey well, his ball carrying getting better and better as the match progressed.

Right, advantage Waihi here. But by a smidgen when you factor in the Faafou factor!

Scrums I see as being a see-saw battle, neither side will gain ascendancy for more than a scrum or two in succession. It’ll be down to lack of concentration from either side, which won’t happen for a second scrum – nothing hurts a front rower more than going backwards at scrum time!

No advantage.

Lineouts, Paeroa could be in trouble. Waihi, if they get their throws right, should be untroubled. But the Paeroa lineout has not been a thing of beauty this whole season. If ole THT was in charge, Paeroa would be working on 3 and 4 man variations all week, walk up, throw quick, and have the lethal ball runners, charging into the Waihi midfield – or target Quinn Collard, make him work hard for the full 80.

Advantage Waihi.

Right, the brylcreem boyos with two digits on their backs, not THT’s usual territory, but a necessary evil of the game, as without these buggers dropping the ball all day and kicking it out, there would be less scrums and lineouts, and you may as well be playing state house rugby. As THT’s old mate, the late great All Black fullback Bob Scott used to say, “forwards win matches, backs decide by how much”. Anyway let’s take a look at the shandy drinkers.

Nines – Asher Delany for Waihi has been in top form all season, quick delivery, fast around the field, fearless defender. Pretty much your all round nine in the modern game. Paeroa have a one-two punch at the moment, Logan Fisher battling out the first forty minutes, and Harry Warren finishing the game off. Both much of a muchness, hence the game time sharing I guess. Buggered if I know really, so long as they put the ball under their hookers feet, nothing else matters.

The season’s two point scoring machines at first five, Quinn Collard for Waihi and Paeroa’s Nathan Emery probably hold the key to the ‘how much’ on Saturday. In the semi finals both kickers missed just one shot. Paeroa’s winning margin over Whangamata was four points (31-27), those points being the four that the Whangamata kicker missed, but Emery slotted. Waihi’s win over Waihou was similar – Waihou missing three penalty shots that would usually be bankers. The Waihi 29-17 win, quickly becomes 29-26, and with the pressure, who knows what might have happened. But just goes to show, kicking wins matches – and this pair has been kicking well all season. Their field kicking is also spot on, last week Whangamata conceded two tries from poor kicking in general play – Emery was flawless and landed a couple of 50/22s (or whatever they’re called). Collard’s booming boot has kept Waihi going forward all year too, so this battle will be sorted by the quality of the ball they receive from their nines, as delivered from their piano movers up front.
Advantage here to Waihi, by the width of a gnats whisker. Really depending on what the low numbers provide in the way of clean, and quick ball.

Now this clash perks up a bit of interest in ole THT. Waihi have been revelling in the return of Dylan Bower at 12, and Kahu Craig-Ranga at 13 has been solid all season. Dylan Rangi for the Aces is dangerous when on the field also. Great defenders, tireless on the kick chase, dangerous with ball in hand, the three have grown in combination all season. Paeroa also have their big boppers Hendrix Beazley st second five and Taimua Malielegaoi at centre, who like to run at, and over people. If that doesn’t work, the pair also have great offload ability in the tackle, and for well built men, they have a nice stepping game! Tyrone Keith is no slouch either, and always adds value when he hits the field.

Advantage to Paeroa here, again by bugger all. More than bugger all though if the Paeroa pack can get some go forward and make early inroads into the Waihi defence. Beazley and Malielegaoi running at a staggered tackle line, at perhaps at a tired prop, is Cam Gerlich, Dylan Bellamy and Petoru Pouri-Lane of Waihi, versus Paeroa’s Keanu May-Matafeo, Coel Kerr and Samoa Toloa. Another tough comparison, because THT hardly watches players who leave the field with their jerseys cleaner than when they started, but I’ll give it a crack, as the builder said to his apprentice. Gerlich has been playing well all season, lightning fast, and lethal if you don’t get your chase line set up right on the kick return. May-Matafeo for Paeroa has hit form at the right time, his play over the last few weeks been top class. All four wingers expected to start do winger stuff well – run around looking pretty, chase hard, stop and smile at the ladies, and score the odd five pointer along the way. John Penu off the bench for Paeroa was a game changer, so look at him maybe starting this week.

Advantage Waihi, the Gerlich factor. Paeroa better get their kick chase right, or it could get ugly!

There we go, according to THT’s advantages, it comes out 5-3 to Waihi. Does that agree with the gut feeling? Well, yes – but – it’ll be discipline that loses this match.

With both goal kickers lethal from 50 meters plus, and penalties will be punished by points. So the team that keeps their head will win. Although, another thought – Waihi have never been under scoreboard pressure this season, I don’t think they’d crumble if they found themselves down by fourteen points at halftime. but I’d like to see it actually, watch them dig their way out of a hole. However, it won’t happen, Waihi will accumulate three pointers off Collards boot as they have all season, keeping the scoreboard ticking over, and take home the McClinchy Cup for the second time.

Hang on, hot off the press, Stu Watts to referee the final, a fine reward for a pretty handy season from the young referee. Which brings another thought to me old concussion addled noggin. The coaching staff – big ask for these gents, the hard work is done, they’re at the final. Now they just need to keep the players emotions in check for the big day. Don’t wind them up too much (although a good all in brawl to start would be refreshing, but not condoned, oh NO, not at all), don’t go in too low key, it’s just another day at the office – even though it isn’t.

A tough task indeed, but they’re up to it I’m sure, we’ll see shortly after 2pm on Saturday who got it right 🀌🏽

Leave a Reply