Athletic Marist through to playoffs after proving power

Athletic Marist timed its run perfectly to grab the last playoff spot in the North Otago premier club competition on Saturday.

Athletic proved the previous week’s victory over Valley was no fluke as it came from 21-7 down to upset Old Boys 24-21 at Whitestone Contracting Stadium.

Hayden Parker.
Hayden Parker.
That was exactly the result Maheno did not want, and its 54-17 win over Excelsior was only good enough to leave the club one point out of the semifinal places.

It also meant the Valley-Kurow clash at Weston, rather than being a preview of one semifinal, was a chance for Kurow to finish in top spot, and the Red Devils obliged with a 37-17 win.

It means the semifinals this weekend — a straight top four, as North Otago ditched its three-week playoff system to avoid a clash between the final and the All Blacks test in Dunedin — will feature Kurow (35 points) hosting Athletic (29), and Old Boys (34) playing Valley (30) in Oamaru.

Kurow will need all of its players to contribute if it is to defend the Citizens Shield it won in memorable style last year.

But class rises to the top, and it was no surprise the major difference between the country clubs on Saturday was the presence of two top-class players.

Hayden Parker, the peripatetic professional back on the farm after another stint in Japan, and former Highlanders midfielder Matt Faddes combined to score all 37 of Kurow’s points.

Matt Faddes.
Matt Faddes.
There is technically no magic formula to what they do but both men simply show the ability and experience they have gained from solid professional careers.

Faddes glided through some ineffective defence to score a hat-trick, and Parker both scored a try from a charge down and landed seven successful kicks.

Valley scored the opening try — lock Max Smith celebrated like it was a World Cup final as he finally got over the line for the first time in five years — and showed its usual level of guts and commitment.

But Kurow won the small battles and produced the moments that counted.

The relative shock of the round was in town, where Athletic Marist confirmed it is the Citizens Shield wildcard.

Old Boys scored the first and last tries of the first half to lead 14-7 at the break, before new winger Mone Samate made it 21-7 shortly after resumption of play.

But that was the last scoring play from Old Boys, who had their opportunities but let themselves down with some bad errors and poor decision-making.

First five Mason Kinzett capped a fine display with a try, and winger Saia Fifita grabbed a double as Athletic came home with a wet sail.

On the back ground, Excelsior kept Maheno at bay for 20 minutes, but the gulf in class between the teams was exposed as Maheno ran in eight tries, three to Aaron Elliott.

Maheno finished the season looking dangerous but will lament dropping so many points earlier in the year.

All three premier games were preceded by a minute’s silence to mark the death of long-serving journalist and broadcaster Terry O’Neill.

 

 

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