Auckland’s alert level forces ORL into waiting game

Aiden Muraahi scrambles to make ground for the Kia Toa Tigers during their game against the South...
Aiden Muraahi scrambles to make ground for the Kia Toa Tigers during their game against the South Pacific Raiders in Dunedin last month. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Otago Rugby League is determined its big day will go ahead - somehow.

The Otago club competition got in four of its scheduled five rounds before Covid-19 lockdown had its say.

As the top two teams were already determined, the fifth round can easily be scratched, leaving just the grand final to be played.

There is one small problem with that: one of the participants, set to play Otago University, is guest club Ponsonby, now stuck under stricter restrictions in Auckland.

A final can be played at Alert Level 2 but the Ponies will be allowed to make the trip to Dunedin only if the northern city joins the South at that level.

"We’re hoping to get the grand final played," ORL chairman Ricki Allan said.

"We’re just obviously not too sure as Ponsonby is involved, and it’s hard to say when Auckland is going to be dropping down a couple of levels.

"We could be waiting a while, and we will wait as long as possible.

"But we also need to think about the University guys. We can’t leave it too late or the students will be gone. So we kind of need to get it played before the students go on holiday."

A further complication could be finding a ground, as the Dunedin City Council starts to prepare venues for summer sport.

Allan acknowledged the situation was tricky but said it would be a shame if the final could not be played.

He was pleased with the standard of the competition over the four weeks played.

"It was really good to get it back going.

"Ponsonby were a good addition. They were unbeaten but I think University were in a position to give them a pretty decent challenge in the final."

He was unsure if the Ponies would be back in the Otago competition but said they would be welcomed.

"They’re definitely hopeful to re-enter the Auckland competition but there are some politics going on up there around their junior club.

"Until they can resolve that, I think they’ve enjoyed being part of our competition.

"Their manager actually owns a business that has sponsored Otago Rugby League, so they’re trying to make contributions to help us grow, and they’re keen to stay involved with us."

While the club final is up in the air, there should be some representative league to keep local players going.

The South Island premier competition has been nudged back and will start with a clash between West Coast and Southland at Wingham Park, the spiritual home of southern league, on September 25.

The Otago Whalers will head to Invercargill to play Southland on October 2, and host West Coast in Dunedin on October 9.

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