You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
The decision by Pirates to pull out of the premier grade two weeks before the opening game of the season came as a shock if not a total surprise. The 135-year-old club had threatened to default a game the previous season and there were rumours the premier team was on the ropes. The club was forced to face reality when it had fewer than 20 players available for two pre-season games against Dunedin teams in early March.
... but not forgotten
Pirates’ absence created a bye, which was far from ideal. And there was some resentment that so many of its best players elected to join Southern.
The Magpies’ already powerful forward pack got a top-up with the arrival of props Craig Millar and Hisa Sasagi and loose forward Josh Clark.
That was enough for some Pirates’ fans to adopt Southern as its replacement club and for the Otago Daily Times to start promoting the Southern all-stars as the early season favourite.
Southern has been knocked off that perch in recent weeks and Harbour shapes as the form team heading into tomorrow’s final, though.
Less is more
Could it be Pirates’ departure was actually a blessing? Not for the club, obviously, but the competition has been much tighter this season. There have been no real blowouts. The biggest margin this season was 39 points when University beat Green Island 48-9 in round two, and there were only two scores of 50 or more.
And, despite popular belief, the entire Pirates forward pack did not end up at Southern. Green Island got a very good lock in Jared Williams and Alhambra-Union got the hard-working Hayden Fleury.
Some members of the rugby community were not impressed when round five had to be abandoned because the Dunedin City Council made a decision on a Thursday to close its grounds for the weekend. There were plenty who felt the round could have gone ahead and the match committee waited until the morning to officially call the games off. The poor weather was less severe than anticipated in the end.
It also sparked a debate about whether Forsyth Barr Stadium should be made more available, which continued when the University Oval was ruled out as a semifinal venue.
There were many milestones this year but Grant Innes tops the billing. He brought up 400 games as manager of Harbour when the Hawks hosted University at Watson Park in round 18.
He was planning on retiring at the end of last season but was lured back because it is Harbour’s jubilee year and he would dearly love to be part of a Hawks team which wins its first title. He will get that opportunity tomorrow. Good luck, Grant.