Fri, Nov 19, 2021 8:40 AM

Mako head north with shot at history

After an injury scare in last week's semi-final, Anton Segner is fit and will start at openside in the NPC Premiership final on Saturday. Photo: Shuttersport

Peter Jones

Tasman travel to Hamilton on Saturday with their sights set on taking the fledgling province to another lofty height.

In 2013 they won the championship division, in 2019 they claimed their first premiership title, then last season they went back-to-back to set a new provincial rugby benchmark.

Now they have their sights set on the “three-peat’ – a feat achieved by just two other provinces since the NPC began in 1976 - Auckland (winners 1987 to 1990, then 1993-96) and Canterbury (2008-13, then 2015-17).

The Tasman selectors have made just one change to the starting XV for Saturday’s showdown, returning NZ Sevens speedster Regan Ware to the mix.

Ware was a late withdrawal from the semifinal starting team, being replaced by youngster Macca Springer.

Although Springer played well in Napier, Ware’s greater experience earned him the nod for the decider.

Springer joins the reserves as outside back cover, ousting the versatile Tim O’Malley.

The Mako team to play Waikato in the Bunnings NPC premiership final at FMG Stadium, Hamilton on Saturday, kick-off 7.05pm, is: 1 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 2 Andrew Makalio, 3 Sam Matenga, 4 Antonio Shalfoon, 5 Quinten Strange (co-captain), 6 Jacob Norris, 7 Anton Segner, 8 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta; 9 Louie Chapman, 10 Mitch Hunt (co-captain), 11 Regan Ware, 12 Alex Nankivell, 13 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 14 Timoci Tavatavanawai, 15 Andrew Knewstubb.

Sparkies (bench): Quentin MacDonald, Luca Inch, Isaac Salmon, Max Hicks, Hugh Renton, Noah Hotham, Macca Springer, Levi Aumua.

A feature of the Mako progression over the past few seasons has been their ability to, when required, replace class with class.

A personnel comparison across the three premiership final teams illustrates this fact, with so many players coming and going despite there being only a three-year span.

The first leg of a possible ‘three-peat’ came when the Mako completed an unbeaten season in 2019, beating Wellington in the final at Trafalgar Park.

Only five of the starting XV from the 2019 final will run out first on Saturday - Andrew Makalio, Quinten Strange, Mitch Hunt, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Alex Nankivell.

They were part of a side which was able to call on a wealth of world class operators – such as Tim Perry, Tyrel Lomax, Wyatt Crockett, Liam Squire, Jordan Taufua, Finlay Christie, Will Jordan and David Havili.

A year later it was a much-changed side which brought down Auckland at Eden Park.

Seven of the starting line-up last year will take the field first again tomorrow - Isi Tu’ungafasi, Quentin MacDonald, Sam Matenga, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Quinten Strange, Mitchell Hunt and Leicester Fainga’anuku.

Consequently, Strange, Hunt and Fainga’anuku will be the only players to start in all three finals.

Such a high player turnover does not concern head coach Andrew Goodman. In fact he welcomes the challenge.

“There are always guys stepping in … they are getting opportunities and taking them.

“That’s what I love about this squad. We probably haven’t got the names that we have had over the last couple of years but we have belief and this team will never die wondering, they’ll leave it all out there, which is all you can ask,” added Andrew.

Previous final teams:

Tasman team that won the 2019 NPC premiership final against Wellington in Nelson. 1 Tim Perry, 2 Andrew Makalio, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 4 Quinten Strange, 5 Pari Pari Parkinson, 6 Liam Squire, 7 Sione Havili, 8 Jordan Taufua; 9 Finlay Christie, 10 Mitch Hunt, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12 Alex Nankivell, 13 Levi Aumua, 14 Will Jordan, 15 David Havili (capt). Bench: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Isaac Salmon, 19 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 20 Jacob Norris, 21 Uchida Keisuke, 22 Tim O’Malley, 23 Fetuli Paea.

The Tasman team that won the 2020 NPC premiership final against Auckland in Auckland. 1 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 3 Sam Matenga, 4 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 5 Quinten Strange, 6 Hugh Renton, 7 Sione Havili, 8 Taina Fox-Matamua; 9 Finlay Christie, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12 Tim O’Malley, 13 Fetuli Paea, 14 Mark Telea, 15 David Havili (captain). Reserves: Samiuela Moli, Ryan Coxon, Isaac Salmon, Isaac Ross, Anton Segner, Dwayne Polataivao, Kieron Fonotia, Tima Fainga’anuku.