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University is chasing a third consecutive banner, while Taieri is after its first title since 2014.
The teams met in last year’s final and it was an entertaining struggle. University led 31-3 at halftime but a colourful halftime speech from Phil ‘‘Yards’’ Young got the Eels firing.
They levelled 31-31 with five minutes remaining. But veteran University prop Angus Williams crashed over in the last minute to clinch a dramatic 38-31 win.
Taieri will lean on abrasive loose forward Nick Henderson to set the tone up front, while Matt Whaanga will link up with veteran Kori Rupene in a solid midfield.
Lock Brodie Hume is another no-nonsense, hard-working forward who will be close to the action.
University has an impressive loose forward paring in Jack McHugh and Henry Bell. Halfback Graham Urquhart has had a strong season and Giovanni Leituala has been solid in the midfield and is a quality goal-kicker.
And watch out for mercurial fullback Jermaine Pepe.
Taieri is the Hawke’s Bay of the premier grade. The Eels know what they do well and will stick to the game plan. Expect the side to kick for touch and set up lineout drives.
It will defend well, stayed disciplined and almost always score points when they get in the red zone.
University will look to play with more width and recycle the ball through its speedy loose forward trio.
There is talent out wide and they will get opportunities.
Its underrated pack muscled up against Southern in the semifinal last week and will look to put some pressure on in the set pieces.
How it will play out
Taieri has a more experienced line-up and made that count earlier in the season when it posted a 16-13 win against its rival. Arguably, it has the stronger forward pack.
But University has built momentum through the playoffs and has history on it side.
A close call but perhaps Taieri will go in as marginal favourite. Eels to win 21-18.