“We haven’t achieved anything yet”, says Tom Marshall after winning the most important game in Tasman Makos history. Never before have the Makos reached the ITM Cup Championship final, but this Friday night Trafalgar Park will host them and Hawke’s Bay as the two teams clash, hoping to win the title and the prize that comes with it – promotion to the Premiership.
Tom has played in the Under-20 World Cup final and in Super Rugby playoffs with the Crusaders, but this time he will be representing his hometown, playing for his friends and his family. So it’s easy to understand why the nerves have come back before kickoff. “This is a different feeling. I was coming into last weekend’s game and I was a wee bit nervous, but I don’t usually get nervous before a game,” he says, in between signing autographs for his beloved fans at Blenheim’s Lansdowne Park. “I guess it’s because making the final is something Tasman has never done before and I really care about it. Come this weekend I’m sure there will be a few nerves amongst the team. Most of the boys have never been involved in finals footy before.”
Thinking ahead to Friday, Tom says it will be “emotional” running out onto the ground where he’s had some very fond memories playing for Nelson, the Makos and Crusaders. “Growing up I always wanted to be a Tasman Mako and that’s the same for most of the boys. We play with our heart on our sleeve and that’s the special thing about this region.”
Fighting for a place to compete in the Premiership standings, Tasman managed to knock off four teams from the above division this year, including semi-finalists Counties Manakau. Tasman were a staggering 16 points ahead of last weekend’s opponents Southland after the round robin, and with just two losses against their name, the Makos entered their playoff series knowing they had already beaten each of the other Championship semi-finalists. So it’s no surprise that Tom didn’t care who this weekend’s opposition was going to be after beating Southland 49-28. “I think it’ll be a psychological advantage for us knowing that we have beaten them. But at the end of the day this is a one off game and whoever plays the best rugby will win. We want to win that final and that’s definitely the goal,” he claimed before Hawke’s Bay had even played Otago.
Trafalgar Park has been a fortress this season. Otago, Hawke’s Bay and Waikato all left empty handed. And Tom firmly believes home ground advantage can give Tasman an edge, having missed out on the final last year when the team travelled to Dunedin and lost to Otago at the semi-final stage. “It really takes the pressure off us. I think it’d be daunting for another team to have to come to Trafalgar Park. We haven’t lost there this year and we’ve played some pretty good footy there. There’s not a side, bar North Harbour, who have beaten us in the Championship so the pressure is all on them.”
Last time Hawke’s Bay played in Nelson, which was just over a month ago, the Magpies failed to fire and were kept try-less by a resolute Makos defense, going down 18-9. However, they still pose a real threat. In Ihaia West Hawke’s Bay has one of the competition’s most exciting players, and there’s Super Rugby experience scattered across the team. While former All Black winger Zac Guilford is the most recognizable face, their captain Mike Coman is a former Waimea College student and his youngest brother was the school’s first XV captain this year. Hawke’s Bay were historic rivals with Nelson Bays during the NPC Division Two days, and both provinces were included in a revamped competition together in 2005.
Tasman has had mixed success since Nelson Bays and Marlborough amalgamated. Prior to this season their best placing was beaten semi-finalists and they finished bottom of the table just two years ago. Now the first thing on their mind is this Friday, and Tom wants a sell out crowd to help his team get across the line. “The region has been really good and they’re loving what we’re doing. When teams are winning people jump on the bandwagon so hopefully we can get a sell out.”
Tickets for this Friday’s match are on sale at www.makos.co.nz, Theatre Royal, I-Site, New World Nelson and Nelson School of Music.