The Tasman Mako celebrate their NPC premiership victory after the final whistle blows. Photo: Barry Whitnall/Shuttersport.

Tasman Mako crowned champions

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The Mako held off a ferocious challenge from the Wellington Lions 31-14 to claim its maiden title in an enthralling final in front to a packed house at Trafalgar Park.

Tasman’s ascendance to the top rung of the New Zealand provincial ladder should come as no surprise to those who have followed the team’s fortunes in recent years.

Their star has been steadily rising, with the prospect of a breakthrough NPC premiership title seemingly only a matter of time.

Fifteen years ago, the Tasman Mako were merely an idea, a concept that had merit but posed more questions than answers. Within 14 seasons, during which the nation’s newest union twice teetered on the edge of oblivion, they have established themselves as one of the powerhouses of our national game.

And there has been no magic wand, no special stairway to NPC heaven. It has taken determination, resilience and some astute management to get there.

Mako co-head coach Andrew Goodman has been a big part of the union’s success story, both as a player, then assistant coach to Leon MacDonald and co-head coach with Clarke Dermody this season.

Goodman said it had taken three or four seasons of hard work to get the team over the line.

“I want to say big thank you to all those guys outside the team who have had a big impact … one who comes immediately to mind is Leon for the influence he has had on Shane [Christie] and myself as young coaches.”

Tasman’s 12-from-12 charge to the title has been based around a fairly simple blueprint for success, a recipe that was repeated in the final.

“Wellington were never out of it, if one of those passes had stuck in the last 15 minutes it would have been a real tight finish,” said Goodman.

“But there was some great grit from our boys and the ‘Sparkies’ once again did a really good job. Tuli Paea came on at halftime and changed the game, Jacob Norris played awesome, Hugh Roach again, Uchi [Keisuke Uchida] for the last 15, Wyatt Crockett was amazing with two turnovers.

“We have trusted our bench a lot more this year because those guys have put their hands up at training every week.

“But it’s been a full squad effort … the whole management and coaching staff have been tireless, I’m just so proud of everyone.”

Just two players were involved during the union’s only previous successful NPC campaign, hard-nosed forwards Tim Perry and Liam Squire who, along with Jordan Taufua and Crockett, may have played their last game in the jersey.

Perry described the post-match feeling on Saturday as “unreal”.

“This is where it all started … it means a lot to me personally, [the coaches] gave me a crack and we won the second year I was here … we wanted to go to the top and we’ve finally done it, so it’s awesome to be a part of it.

“There have been a few ups and downs along the way … it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I couldn’t have done it with better bunch of men.”

Squire’s mind went back to another night, the 2014 premiership final loss to Taranaki in New Plymouth.

“It’s good to redeem ourselves and get the job done this year, this feels awesome.

“The culture here is really something different, it’s a great tight-knit group and I can only see it growing with the talented young guys that are here.”

Asked if he will be back for another campaign, Squire was unsure.

“The body’s feeling a bit beaten up at the moment … that’s the dream, to come back, but there is also that feeling that this could have been my last game here in New Zealand.

“If that’s the case I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out.”

Mako skipper David Havili was still trying to come to grips with his side’s achievements 15 minutes after the final whistle.

“I still can’t quite believe it … it’s quite raw at the moment.

“We have been building for this moment for a very long time, so to get over the line is just so good man, so good.

“There was both relief and excitement at the end, to put this little union on the map is bloody special.”

Havili boldly declared his loyalty for the province where he grew up and where he intends to remain.

“I’m definitely a Mako for life … I’m from the little town of Motueka and I won’t be leaving … but for now I think I’ll enjoy this for the next few days.”

Scorers:

Tasman 31 (Jordan 2, Havili tries Hunt 4 pens, 2 cons)

Wellington 14 (Fidow tries, Garden-Bachop 3 pens)