Premier status at stake in curtain-raiser

It does not happen often these days but a genuine curtain-raiser will be played before tonight's game between Otago and Auckland.

West Taieri takes on Green Island at Forsyth Barr Stadium in a promotion-relegation match for premier status.

Green Island won two matches this season and finished bottom of the premier table, although it was far from disgraced in many games.

West Taieri won the premier two grade title, beating Kaikorai in the final, and had the option of challenging the bottom premier side for a position in the premier grade. West Taieri has taken up the challenge and have been training hard since it won the premier two final last month.

West Taieri co-coach Gary Nichol said the side had kept training since the final and was looking forward to the match.

''We've had a bit of a messy season in the grade with games being moved around and deferred. Then this game was on one week then the next. But now we know when it is on and we're ready to go,'' he said.

''It is going to be tough for us. They are a good side. But we'll give it our best shot. They haven't played for more than two months so that is going to help us.''

Nichol said West Taieri has a good all-round team which had paved the way to winning the grade.

Everyone was available for tonight's match.

The decision to seek promotion was driven by the players, he said, and the club had got in behind.

It will be veteran No8 Dave McNeill's 200th game for West Taieri tonight.

One bonus of making the final was West Taieri will get to play at the stadium for the first time.

Green Island was not expecting to play another game after its season finished on July 15 but once it knew West Taieri would challenge for premier status, the side had got back into training.

Green Island coach Dean Moeahu said as soon as he knew the game was on, he contacted his forwards and told them ''to do something every single day''.

Green Island has had a couple of short hit-outs over the past couple of weekends for the players who were around and it was good to get back into game mode.

The only regular players missing are first five-eighth Ben Patston and midfield back Latu Siake.

The bonus for Green Island was having captain Sam Eriepa back after he missed the season through injury.

Both clubs should have plenty of support as they are community-based clubs.

With the premier grade having only nine teams this year the make-up of next year's competition may not solely be decided on which side wins tonight's game.


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