Shield defenders honed, hardened

Kurow hooker Bailey Templeton prepares to feed a lineout during the Citizens Shield semifinal...
Kurow hooker Bailey Templeton prepares to feed a lineout during the Citizens Shield semifinal against Athletic Marist at Kurow last Saturday. PHOTOS: REBECCA RYAN
Kurow has done an admirable job dealing with the change from being the hunter to the hunted.

Now, the ultimate test: having reached the summit, can the buoyant country club stay there?

Kurow made a fairytale return to the top of North Otago rugby with a 24-13 win over Valley in last year’s final, reclaiming the Citizens Shield for the first time in 39 years.

That meant a target on those red jerseys all season, but Kurow coped with everything that came its way to qualify top for the playoffs.

"I suppose every team we’ve come up against has really come for us," Kurow coach Tim Anderson said.

"They’ve wanted to hit us with everything. And I think we’ve learned to deal with that, because it’s not a bad thing."

Kurow eased to a 26-3 win over Athletic Marist in one semifinal, while Old Boys finished strongly to beat Valley 22-11 in the other.

It has not all been plain sailing for Kurow.

The club lost a handful of players to season-ending injuries, so depth was tested, but that is now a strength.

"We’ve got a big squad, and new guys who have come in have worked hard," Anderson said.

"We have tried to change up a few things, because you don’t want to get too comfortable, but we have players who know what their job is and they just go and do it."

There is — understandably, though perhaps excessively — plenty of buzz about Kurow’s wonderful backline.

But there was more to the team than the phenomenal triumvirate of Hayden Parker, Matt Faddes and Hayden Todd, Anderson said.

"Forwards are always the key, ha ha.

"Hayden and those boys don’t really like it when you put too much on them.

"Our pack is a massive deal for us. We’ve got some really good players, and some big-game players, and I’d love to see a few more recognised in the Heartland squad this year.

"You can’t win anything without a good forward pack."

Kurow beat Old Boys twice in the round robin but tomorrow’s final could be anyone’s game.

Old Boys’ form has been patchy but they have some fabulous athletes and smart veterans who will not panic when the chips are down.

The men in black last won the shield in 2017, and last made the final in 2019.

"It’s pretty special because we haven’t been in the final for a wee while now," coach Lemi Masoe said.

"There was a lot of emotion and a lot of happy tears after the semifinal. They’ve been working really hard this year."

Masoe, the North Otago great, still runs the cutter for Old Boys in his fifth decade.

He will hope the tight five can set a platform for the lethal 8-9 combination of Junior Fakatoufifita and Mataitini Feke to run amok.

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