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With half of the regular season over, minds start to switch to playoff projections as unbeaten North Otago heads to Greymouth this weekend.
It takes on West Coast, which lost its first game of the championship to Whanganui in a close match last week.
Whanganui, however, could be the slumbering giant. With a further four rounds to be played before the top eight are divided into the Meads Cup (top four) and the Lochore Cup (second four), Whanganui, a perennial contender, has yet to play East Coast, North Otago, King Country and Horowhenua-Kapiti.
If it wins all these games convincingly and obtains bonus points, Whanganui could finish with no greater than 28 points.
Since the inception of the current Heartland system, Whanganui has been one of the dominant unions and its current results may simply be a warning to its remaining opponents.
West Coast coach Sean Cuttance has been happy with the performance of his side.
"It would have been nice to have made it four in a row but Whanganui was just too good," he said.
"But the boys have put in more than last year and they were pretty keen to do it properly for once. They are a lot fitter and it's showing, especially at the end of games.
"In the Mid Canterbury game we had to play six minutes overtime before the final whistle went and most of our wins have been less than 10 points.
"But against Whanganui I don't know what it was. Maybe the three from three going into the game changed our mental approach, as it can do. I felt we were up for it but Whanganui might have had more momentum on the day."
West Coast looked a well-balanced side, Cuttance said.
"We're lucky we've got a good leader in Troy Tauwhare, a Heartland representative, Sione Alani in midfield is a well-rounded player and the forwards like to take on the opposition."
West Coast had some wise heads and some promising players who brought plenty of energy to the side.
The only change to the North Otago side that beat Thames Valley last week is in the threequarters, where right winger Howard Packman, who was injured in the warm-up prior to the Thames Valley game, returns to his position.
North Otago leads with 17 points, followed by West Coast, Buller, Wairarapa-Bush, all on 14 points. Lining up below are South Canterbury (13), King Country (12), Thames Valley (11), Mid Canterbury (9), Poverty Bay (8), Whanganui (8), Horowhenua-Kapiti (6) and East Coast (1).
North Otago v West Coast
Greymouth, today, 2.30pm
North Otago: Patrick Pati, Howard Packman, Lemi Masoe, Sam Tatupu, Taine Tamou, Lachlan Kingan, Robbie Smith, Josh Clark, Marcue Balchin, Jacob Coghlan, Woody Kirkwood, Charles Elton, Mekikisua Kolinisau, Sam Sturgess (captain), Ralph Darling. Reserves: Hayden Tisdall, Kelepi Funaki, Joshua Hayward, Manulua
Taiti, Anthonu Arty, Gasca Clement, Matthew Vocea.
West Coast: Peter Te Rakau, Alex Lean, Sione Holani, Sean McLure, Nicolas Thomson, Jesse Joass-Pitman, Jared Mitchell, Amenatave Takana, Steven Soper, Josh
Tomlinson, Sam Liebezit, Tumama Tu’ulua, Daniel Davis, Troy Tauwhare, Tyler Kearns. Reserves: Trent Lawn, Daniel Foord, Logan Winter, Jasyn Van Vliet, Jarrod Ferguson, Kahu Tamatea, Eric Munro.
- By Terry O'Neill