The two top sides this season will contest the E’stel Tasman Trophy after booking spots in this weekend’s final with contrasting semi-final victories.
Marist’s clash with Wanderers yielded more than 100 points as a rampant green machine ran riot at Trafalgar Park.
After dropping its only game this season to Renwick in round 10, Marist responded in ruthless fashion as it ran in 11 tries to send an ominous warning to Waimea.
Meanwhile, the top qualifiers also booked its berth in the big dance, however, Waimea were made to work a lot harder for a 37-22 win over Waitohi at Jubilee to set up a mouth-watering show down with Marist.
The two teams could not be separated in its previous encounter, playing out a thrilling draw at Tahunanui Fields in round seven.
However, the clash came at a cost for Marist. The team lost a number of key players to injury, including All Black sevens star Te Puhoe Stephens.
Despite the blow to its ranks the Green Machine still boast a powerful pack with the likes of Sam Moli, Joe Taylor and the hard-working Jacob Norris providing plenty of go forward to allow its exciting backline to prosper.
Jamie Spowart and Lote Saulekaleka have been in scintillating attacking form of late, Saulekaleka setting up the first two tries and scoring the third in a dazzling display on Saturday.
Halfback Cleve Barrell has been a weapon at the base with eight tries this season and his battle with Kaide Whiting will be a thrilling one.
The minor premiers aren’t lacking threats on attack themselves with the dangerous Erenimo Tau and Alex Coventry proving headaches for opposition defences all season.
Another key matchup will, of course, be the clash of the captains James Hawkey and Michael Stringer in the midfield.
Marist coach Gavin Briggs says finals footy is a different beast and his troops will need to prepare for any number of variables.
“It could be anything, injuries, pressure, the clock, weather, it will come down to key moments.”
Gavin says while winning becomes a habit, nothing can be taken for granted as evidenced by its shock final round loss to Renwick.
“It was definitely a reality check, not that we were going overconfident. We have been sure to stray grounded and level-headed, but Renwick were really up for that one.”
The loss clearly lit a fire in Marist who came out and blew its opponents off the park within 20 minutes of Saturday’s semi-final.
Marist didn’t take long to get on the board as Saulekaleka exploded onto a rogue kick, beat three defenders and linked up with Spowart for the opening try.
Saulekaleka set up the second with another scything run before Sam Briggs burst through the line to give Marist all the early momentum.
The fullback’s sensational start continued as he crashed over himself moments later for a 17-0 lead with just 15 minutes gone.
A fourth try soon followed after Marist decimated the Wanderers’ scrum and Briggs danced through the defence to bag a brace with less than a quarter of the game gone.
The carnage continued as Spowart made another scintillating break before linking up with Barrell who went in for Marist’s fifth.
Wanderers had no answers for the onslaught and Barrell burrowed over for his second as the visitors began falling off numerous tackles.
Hawkey then got in on the action before Wanderers did give its supporters something to cheer about as Fletcher Matthews scurried down the sideline to put his side on the board before the break.
Marist would respond immediately, however, through Moli who scored the eighth first half try and brought up the half century to cap a completely dominant forty minutes for Marist.
The issues were compounded for Wanderers as one of its key attacking weapons in centre Tone Vaka was sent to the bin for a brutal looking spare tackle.
The Green Machine wouldn’t take long to exploit the one-man advantage as lock Hopo Taufa and Hawkey blew the score-line out further.
Naki Saumaki pulled one back for Wanderers with some dazzling footwork as the injury toll mounted for both teams.
Wanderers’ late surge continued, awarded a penalty try before Ducati Morrell-Hopa, Nino Peniamina and Dan Mclauchlan all scored consolation tries as defence took a back seat in the last ten.
Teu Sami restored order with another one for Marist as the high scoring affair finally ended at 71-34.
Gavin says his side will take confidence from the 71-34 win over Wanderers.
“They were missing a couple of key players, but we started on right the foot, put pressure on them and created a lot of opportunities.”
The former Nelson Bays prop says following its successful formula will be crucial come Saturday.
“I’ll back our guys if we stick to what we trust, train and have been putting out on the field, then the result should take care of itself.”
Marist 71 (Briggs 2, Barrell 2, Hawkey 2, Moli, Spowart, Saulekaleka, Taufa, Sami tries, Hawkey 8 cons)
Wanderers 34 (Matthews, Saumaki, Hopa, Peniamina, penalty try, Mclauchlan, Matthews one con)
Marist 71 def Wanderers 34
Waimea 37 def Waitohi 22
Roads to the final:
Rd1 def East Coast 38-12
Rd2 def Riwaka 57-0
Rd4 def Wanderers 38-12
Rd5 def Moutere 51-12
Rd6 def Nelson 38-17
Rd7 def Central 45-23
Rd8 drew with Waimea 26-all
Rd9 def Waitohi 34-25
Rd10 def Stoke 42-22
Rd11 lost to Renwick 33-17
Semi Final def Wanderers 71-34
Rd1 def Central 57-21
Rd2 def Stoke 27-25
Rd3 def Waitohi 42-26
Rd4 def Riwaka 17-6
Rd5 def Renwick 46-19
Rd6 def Wanderers 29-19
Rd7 def Moutere 64-33
Rd8 drew with Marist 26-all
Rd10 drew with Nelson 22-all
Rd11 def East Coast 40-33
Semi Final def Waitohi 37-22
Tasman Trophy Previous winners:
2017-Waimea Old Boys