Expansive teams to meet in premier final

Clifton coach Colin Cooper isn’t surprised his team will meet Tukapa in the CMK premier club rugby final at Vogeltown Park on Saturday.

In his first year back with Clifton after years coaching professionally, Cooper has injected an entertaining brand of rugby into the number one seeds.

Cooper said their method of play can compare with Tukapa, making Saturday’s match much anticipated.

“We have very similar game plan styles with Tukapa and this will make it a great contest for all the supporters to come and enjoy,” he said.

The styles include an entertaining brand of free flowing, width-to-width rugby, rarely seen from Clifton in recent years.

Clifton was unbeaten in the second round of the competition, including a healthy win against Tukapa at Sanders Park.

Cooper has been impressed with Clifton’s mindset.

“The team has improved their learning with every game and from a coaching perspective this is great. The supporters have recognized that, and the team’s support has been strong.

“We will look to continue that mindset as we go into the final.”

The style contributed to the top three try-scorers in the competition during the season were from Clifton. Taranaki halfback Liam Blyde was the leader.

Looking back at his coaching career at Clifton, Cooper remembers the 1992 title which was his first year coaching the team.

“I still have fond memories of the title with a lot of pride as we had a great culture.”

Saturday will be Clifton’s first finals appearance since 2013, when Southern claimed the title at Yarrow Stadium. Their last came in 1999, which was Clifton’s 11th title.

In comparison, Tukapa’s recent run of form in finals is more successful. They have won three championships in the last six years, their last in 2020.

Coach Ben Siffleet said the recent history is down to depth within the club and the players enjoying the environment.

During last week’s semi-final against New Plymouth Old Boys, he said Tukapa “stayed in the fight” and showed willingness to work together.

But ahead of the weekend, Siffleet knows Clifton are up for the challenge.

“They have been the pace setters all year with great leadership and are exciting right across the park.”

Tukapa Playmaker Jayson Potroz is in doubt after suffering an injury last week. His selection will be confirmed on the day.

With finals rugby, Siffleet said all the little things count and they will leave nothing on the field.

Referee Cam Stone will bring up 100 premier matches when he controls his third consecutive final and fourth overall.

Kickoff is at 2:45pm.

In other finals, New Plymouth Old Boys and Tukapa will contest for the Division one title, unbeaten Kaitake play Kaponga in Division 2 and NPOB play Stratford/Eltham for colts glory.

Final squads: Clifton: Paddy O’Carroll-Haami, Jared Profitt, Mike Kainga, Jonetani Boi, Blair Shorten, Connor White, Reece Gray, Liam Blyde (C), Matty James, Josh Setu, Daniel Rona, Fatiauma Moeahu-Leota, Indiha Soatui-Huta, Matt McKenzie. Reserves: Abe Hira, Whetu O’Carroll-Leota, Caleb Waho, Apimeleki Dawai, Topia Barrowcliffe, Taylor Haskell, Kini Naholo. Coach: Colin Cooper; Tukapa: Thomas Edwards, Ricky Riccitelli, Scott Mellow, Leighton Price, Corbin Porteous, Mairenga Laapo, Mitchell Crosswell, Campbell Woodmass, Jayson Potroz/Mason Porteous, Isaac Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Pomare Samupo, Lukas Halls, Henry Miles (C), Jacob Ratumaitavuki- Kneepkens. Reserves: Liam Bernet, Brendon Dent, Michael Nyssen, Chris Jollands, Rory Ward, Mason Porteous/Keahn Tipu, Luke Taplin. Coach: Ben Siffleet.

Expert predictions:

Mike Sandle, TRFU CEO: Clifton: “They’ve been the pace setters all year and have match winners across the park.”

Neil Barnes, Taranaki coach: Clifton: “It’s hard to go past Clifton, they’ve been the form team all year and have played and exciting, width-based brand of rugby. If Tukapa defend well though, as they did last week, they are well and truly capable of upsetting.”

John Dazley, CMK principal: Clifton: “They take every opportunity, the back line is electric, but finals footy can be a funny old thing.”

Ray Hopkinson, Newstalk ZB reporter: Clifton: For me. A very dangerous side with game breakers all over the place. Tukapa could upset.”

CMK club rugby finals day, Vogeltown Park

Colts: NPOB v Stratford/Eltham, field 1, 12noon

Div 2: Kaitake v Kaponga, field 3, 12:30pm

Div 1: NPOB v Tukapa, field 2, 1pm

Premier: Clifton v NPOB, field 1, 2:45pm

– This content has been brought to you by Sports News Taranaki.

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