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Ngati Porou East Coast on a roll

Ngati Porou East Coast turned a corner last Saturday.

And come 1pm tomorrow at John Sturgeon Park in Greymouth, the Sky Blues will find out what's behind Door No.1 when they battle West Coast.

The heroes of Week 5 in the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship, the Hosea Gear-coached, Hone Haerewa-led crew broke a 54 game, eight-year competition duck in their 50-26 win against Buller.

Former All Blacks Gear, Ma'a Nonu, ex-Samoan International Faifili Levave, who debuted for the Sky Blues on that historic occasion, will all again be on the reserves bench for the Sky Blues just seven days out from what could be a Heartland epic — against Poverty Bay — in Gisborne.

Gear, All Black 1079, NPEC representative 1212, has great respect for the Coasters, the true ironborn of the Heartland Championship.

“We expect it to be hard game,” he said.

“The forecast is for rain, and they have a really big forward pack. They'll use that to their advantage.”

West Coast's first-year head coach, Dave Perrin, has enjoyed the contribution of and value added to his squad by the likes of Burnside's Ethan Simpson and his locking partner Sam Lieberzeit.

“Everybody wants to play,” Perrin said.

“We've done good things in parts and we're getting good stuff off the bench. The last three games of this campaign, this season, it's about doing what we can.”

Home-town skipper and openside flanker Steve Soper is one of Heartland Rugby's toughest No.7s. He leads a side who relish the prospect of claiming a Heartland scalp in conditions that out-of-town opponents dread.

“There'll be rain — a southerly coming off the Alps — and we're desperate for a win against a fired-up Ngati Porou,” he said.

“The boys trained well on Wednesday and they'll go hard again tonight.”

Up for grabs in the 30th edition of “the Coasties (NPEC) v the Coasters” since May 17, 1976 (36-0 to the Southerners at home), will be the Arthur Wickes Memorial Trophy.

Named for the legendary Red-and-Whites back-row forward and later selector, first held aloft by the mainlanders after the Coasters' 19-5 win at home on August 5, 1995, the trophy last changed hands at Greymouth on September 21, 2013: West Coast won Game 24 15-11.

Injury to 2019 Heartland 15 representative Hone Haerewa, the Sky Blues' starting fetcher at Whakarua Park in Ruatoria last week, has necessitated his replacement by impressive Uawa breakaway Tanira Tamanui-Nepia, 22. Sam Parkes, in his 51st appearance, is NPEC game-day captain.

The only other changes to the side who made history last week involve Tawhao Stewart's move from the right wing to second five-eighth, thereby replacing Te Manu Herewini. Flyer Te Wehi Wright is the new No.14.

West Coast lost — heartbreakingly — 19-18 to Wairarapa-Bush at Levin in Week 5. Coming into the Red-and-Whites' starting 15 for what promises to be a humdinger will be 6ft 3in (1.9m) Jesse MacRae at loosehead prop for Dan Foord. Jaime Garland will go to first-five for Joseph Scott. Scott's move to second-five for Regan Stanton, alongside centre Sean McClure, who's in for Elliot Smith, will give the hosts a new midfield pairing.

The Sky Blues (eight competition points) are placed eighth of 12 teams; The Red-and-Whites (seven points) are one place behind, with seven points. Both teams have one win and four losses.

NPEC have three times taken a bonus point for scoring four tries — against North Otago, Horowhenua-Kapiti and Buller — and also have a bonus point for the Week 3 loss by seven points (31-38) to The 'Nua.

West Coast beat NPEC 21-19 at Ruatoria on September 28, 2019, on the last occasion the teams met, with the southern men prevailing 62-26 on October 13, 2018, when last the Sky Blues made the trip to Greymouth.

On last week's result, with the experience, knowledge and confidence that brought, what cannot be disputed is that Hosea Gear's team are riding high. The time of so-near-yet-so-far disappointment for NPEC is at an end.

But that's no guarantee of victory.

Last Saturday, the Coast got enough ball to string passes together. The support play was of a high standard. If they can lay a good enough platform at set-piece then they have the personnel — throughout their 22 — to play even better rugby.

The referee for tomorrow's fixture will be University of Canterbury student health adviser and 2019 Touch World Cup final referee George Haswell (Canterbury), 22, in his ninth first-class appointment. His ARs are lawyer and NZ Army reservist sapper John Whitcombe (AR1, Canterbury), and Logburn Farm manager Colin van Der Geest (AR2, West Coast).

NGATI POROU EAST COAST, 1-15: Peter Mirrielees, Jorian Tangaere, Perrin Manuel, Gabe Te Kani, Trent Boswell-Wakefield, Richard Green, Tanira Tamanui-Nepia, Willie Bolingford, Sam Parkes (captain), Te Rangi Fraser, Teina Potae, Tawhao Stewart, Tutere Waenga, Te Wehi Wright, Hamuera Moana. Reserves, 16-22: Jody Tuhaka, Mike Chambers-Raroa, Moana Mato, Faifili Levave, Verdon Bartlett, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Tipene Meihana.

WEST COAST: Jesse MacRae, Trent Lawn, Daniel Davis, Ethan Simpson, Sam Lieberzeit, Lewis Jackman, Steven Soper (c), Amenatave Takana, Jarrod Ferguson, Jaime Garland, Nick Muir, Joseph Scott, Sean McClure, Jacob Lowe, Anthony Tailua. Reserves: Troy Tauwhare, Dan Foord, Kelly Rasmussen, Logan Winter, Jade Coleman, Jasyn Van Vliet, Adam Baker.

HE'S BACK: Ma’a Nonu in Ngati Porou East Coast colours against Buller. He, Hosea Gear and Faifili Levave are on the bench again for the game against West Coast in Greymouth tomorrow.Picture by Liam Clayton