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Mako can reflect on an NPC campaign to be proud of [Peter Jones]

Mako can reflect on an NPC campaign to be proud of

By Peter Jones [Marlborough Weekly]

It is often said that when it comes to success in big games, “winning the big moments” is key - and so it proved in Hamilton on Saturday night.

When Tasman reflect on how their bid for a “three-peat” of NPC premiership titles slipped away they will pinpoint a series of ‘big moments’ which they lost.

They will look at the loose pass that gifted Mooloo centre Bailyn Sullivan a runaway try immediately after Tasman had begun to boss the game. They will rue a scrum penalty on the stroke of halftime that enabled the home side to grab a psychological edge going into the break.

Ditto with the wayward pass that handed Sullivan his second try, then an early penalty goal miss in the second half, the penalty against Anton Segner that allowed Fletcher Smith to land the match-winning penalty and finally, the wayward lineout in overtime that ended Tasman’s chances of a last-gasp miracle play.

Make no mistake, the Mako were up for this game and right in it until the final whistle. They were just not at their clinical best, and often struggled with the interpretations of referee Nick Briant who, incidentally, also refereed the previous Mooloo v Mako match this season, won 39-22 by Waikato.

The 2021 NPC has been a long and winding road, not just for the Mako, but for all the NPC sides. When Covid reared its ugly head again the competition was turned on its head.

Tasman began with a couple of strong showings, beating Bay of Plenty away then lowering Auckland’s colours in Nelson before the competition went into an enforced hiatus.

When they returned to action - over a month later - Auckland, Counties Manukau and North Harbour had dropped out of the competition and the season’s planning was completely up in the air.

The Mako returned with a big win over Northland, but then struck their first road bump, against the side who would prove their season’s nemesis - Waikato.

They rebounded with a big win over Southland, then headed for Napier and a shot at the Ranfurly Shield full of confidence. But the Magpies were in the middle of a strong season and again Tasman came up short.

Old foe Canterbury were up next and they also had the Mako measure, winning narrowly in Christchurch.

Tasman’s final round robin match was against Wellington, in Blenheim, and had become a virtual quarterfinal, with the Lions also needing to win to make the play-offs. A superb second half and some gritty defence go the job done though and then it was on to the semis and another trip to Napier.

This time the Bay were beaten, Tasman turning in probably their best performance of a testing season.

Then came the final and a chance to conclude what had turned into something of a bizarre season with some familiar silverware.

Making it even more bizarre was the fact their opponents were able to bring this season’s Bay of Plenty halfback, former All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, on from the bench for the final 10 minutes. One wonders if Mitch Drummond wouldn’t have been a handy reserve for the Mako!

Anyway, despite slipping at the final hurdle, Tasman can take plenty of positives from a season which involved major change.

The loss of key backline players Finlay Christie, David Havili, Sevu Reece, Mark Telea, Fetuli Paea and Will Jordan certainly hurt the Mako potency on attack, while Tyrel Lomax, Shannon Frizell, Ethan Blackadder, Ryan Coxon and Sione Havili Talitui were sorely missed up front.

However, player development became key, with a string of young players putting their hands up to step into the space left by those regulars.

Guys such as Louie Chapman, who found his running game in the final, Antonio Shalfoon, Max Hicks, Sam Matenga, Anton Segner, Timoci Tavatavanawai, perhaps the rookie of the year, Luca Inch, Macca Springer and Willie Havili showed they can live at the top level.

The youngsters were able to again rely on a band of senior players led by co-captains Mitch Hunt, whose guidance was superb, and Quinten Strange.

Such experienced operators as Quentin MacDonald, Pari Pari Parkinson, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Jacob Norris, Hugh Renton, Alex Nankivell, Tim O’Malley, Levi Aumua and the irrepressible Leicester Fainga’anuku were also pivotal as the Mako found a way to get into the ‘big dance’ again.

They may not have come away with the result that they craved, but Tasman again deserve the respect and admiration of the NZ sporting public, not only for the way they continue to develop talent, but also for their ability to handle defeat with dignity and class.

Tasman’s NPC record 2021

August 8 – Tasman 27 Bay of Plenty 14

August 14 – Tasman 16 Auckland 11

September 18 – Tasman 48 Northland 29

September 24 – Tasman 22 Waikato 39

October 3 – Tasman 51 Southland 14

October 9 – Tasman 22 Hawke’s Bay 34 (Ranfurly Shield)

October 29 – Tasman 20 Canterbury 24

November 6 – Tasman 34 Wellington 22

November 13 – Tasman 33 Hawke’s Bay 27 (Semi-final)

November 20 – Tasman 20 Waikato 23 (Final)

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