Last year’s senior rugby finalists Marist have had an early reality check against a rampant and improved Waimea Old Boys who won 33-16 at a wet Tahunanui Fields on Saturday.
By all indications of the round of the Tasman Trophy Rugby competition, the Nelson teams all seem competitive.
Galbraith Nelson had to overcome a halftime deficit to beat Freeman Roofing Stoke 34-20 at Neale Park, while defending Nelson Bays champions Taylors Wanderers had to work hard to wear down Kahurangi 31-23 at Brightwater.
However, it will be the match at Tahunanui Fields that will have raised the most eyebrows with a vastly improved Star and Garter Waimea Old Boys team taking it to New St Steakhouse Marist at scrum time, and looking potent with their backline, to surge away with the game.
Eli Kneepkens only enhanced his reputation on debut for Waimea.
The fullback was always an attacking threat, scoring his team’s first try and kicking all his seven attempts at goal for a 23-point haul.
Marist coach Ant Holder lamented that his team played too expansively for the deteriorating conditions and were not as accurate as they should have been at set piece time.
While the hosts were always in the game, Waimea’s defence bent but did not break at crucial times.
Marist hooker Ratu Vugakoto was impressive while James Hawkey looks more settled at 12 than at 10.
Waimea got great value out of Jeff Lepa in the forwards while Michael Stringer had his moments in the midfield.
Waimea coach Mark Milne says he was surprised at how well the scrum went.
At Neale Park, former Nelson College 10 Willy Havili scored 19 points on debut for Nelson.
Utility back Tima Faingaanuku also dotted down in the win but Stoke gave plenty of cheek to prove they will demand respect in 2017.
Stoke fullback Sam Chamberlain scored twice for Stoke.
A hat-trick of tries from New Zealand sevens representative Tone Ng Shiu was enough to keep Wanderers in control of their game against Kahurangi.
Round two this Saturday sees Stoke travel to Riwaka to battle Kahurangi, Marist welcome Wanderers for a repeat of last year’s Nelson Bays final, at Tahunanui, and Waimea host Nelson.