The Wakatipu Premiers rugby team banished a recent history of under-achievement with last Saturday’s White Horse Cup win over Maniototo.
The once-mighty Premiers couldn’t even make the Central Otago semi-finals last season.
This year threatened to go the same way after bad losses to Clyde-Earnscleugh and Arrowtown. Now, after romps over Cromwell and Alexandra, they’ve scored a hard-earned 28-17 win over Maniototo at Ranfurly to lift the coveted White Horse Cup for the first time in four years.
Former Highlander Kelvin Middleton, in his third year coaching Wakatipu, admits some days he’d wake up and wonder about carrying on.
Worst of all was the horrific turnover of players, he says: “Out of last year’s initial squad of 25, we had lost 12 by the end of the year.”
During this season, however, the team has lost just two players and gained some handy new blood like experienced second-five Nathan Reid.
“The likes of winger Mark Te Whaiti and centre Danny King have matured and I think we’ve finally kept a bit of a core group,” Middleton says.
“Assistant coach Damian Petre has been excellent as well.”
Middleton adds the battle is to retain the cup.
The team needs to win its last round-robin home games this season, against highly-rated Clyde-Earnscleugh on June 9 and Cromwell on June 30, to have its name inscribed on it.
“You look at the likes of Arrowtown which has had incredible success with the White Horse Cup and their name has been on it for the last three years,” Middleton says.
Petre says the team learnt to play to their strengths after its two first-round losses.
“We’re relying on a bit more ball movement than some other teams, but the structure involves 15 players, not seven.
“When we’ve got a team that has so many new faces every year, something like a White Horse Cup brings a side together – money can’t buy that.”
The following local players have been selected for the Central Otago side to play South Otago next Monday. The annual Topp Cup game is in Alexandra. Arrowtown: Aidan Winter, John Morrison, Dylan Fletcher, Matt Ryan; Wakatipu: Marcus Balchin, Rich Stephens, Regan Pearce, Nathan Reid, Danny King, Mark Te Whaiti
Weekend’s draw: Matakanui Prems v Wakatipu, Omakau, Friday 7.30pm; Maniototo Prems v Arrowtown, Ranfurly, Saturday 2.45pm; Wakatipu Wanderers (bye)