Beaten semi-finalists for the past four seasons, the Wakatipu Premiers rugby side rewarded its fans by beating Cromwell 34-25 last Saturday to win the Central Otago comp for the first time in five years.
Asked to spill the beans — but not the ball — on the side’s winning formula, newcomer James Valentine, one of the team’s many stars, pinpoints several reasons.
‘‘From speaking to the other boys, there was a really special feeling in the team this year, everyone got along with each other,’’ he says.
‘‘We’ve almost benefited from Covid because we’ve had a solid group of players that have all stuck together.
‘‘You’ve got guys like that mid-field combo of Rube Peina and Danny Kayes, they know each
other inside out, and that’s why we were so destructive in that backline.’’
Also, as the season progressed, halfback Valentine says the forwards ‘‘just really pulled their fingers out and really got into their work’’.
‘‘One of the things we really focused on was wanting to be the fittest team in the comp.
‘‘By about the third or fourth week, we absolutely hit our straps, and that’s why we’d just blow away games in the second half.’’
Valentine also pays credit to coach Brett ‘Big Show’ Anderson and assistant Tom ‘Ted’ Kelly for preparing individual game plans — ‘‘every single game, we had a game plan tailored to the opposition we were playing’’.
He says a key to Saturday’s win was their 44-15 ‘‘absolute demolition job’’ on Upper Clutha in Wanaka the week before, after earlier only drawing with them over there.
‘‘I think that gave us the faith to go into Saturday and go, ‘we can definitely win this competition’.’’
Speaking after the game, Anderson called it ‘‘a great game of finals footy’’.
‘‘We did it tough, but we got the job done, and that’s what finals rugby’s about.’’
Meanwhile, Peina, Valentine and teammates Logan Beggs, Ross Henderson, Tysone Stephens, Tom Ria and Brooke Wilson are in the Central Otago squad, coached by Anderson, named to play South Otago in the annual Topp Cup fixture in Balclutha next Saturday.
Also selected are Arrowtown’s Tom McKenzie, Thomas Grandiek and Price Imlach.