By Jack Malcolm – The Gisborne Herald
Poverty Bay will have their work cut out for them tomorrow as they enter Ngati Porou East Coast stronghold Whakarua Park.
NPEC have produced one of their strongest sides on paper in years, bolstered by the inclusion of loan player Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Recent history sees Poverty Bay come into the game as favourites, having won the past nine encounters between the two teams. The last time NPEC beat Poverty Bay was their 26-8 away win in 2016.
Poverty Bay will be captained by Rikki Terekia, who is making his debut as a helmsman with captain Adrian Wyrill out injured.
With no club rugby tomorrow, this week was the first time the representative squad could put their full focus into the upcoming game.
With training on Tuesday and Thursday this week, co-coach Tom Cairns said he was happy they had picked a large squad of 33 players, as several players were carrying niggling injuries.
The Poverty Bay backline will be most affected, with Kelvin Smith, Ethine Reeves, James Higgins, Tane McGuire and Tamanui Hill unavailable due to injury.
“I’m confident we’ll turn out a strong team; there’s depth in the side and in the region,” Cairns said.
They had several plans coming into the weekend, depending on who would be available to play, he said.
With such a short time to prepare, it was always tough to fully prepare for the annual Queen’s Birthday Weekend clash, but they were ready for the challenge.
It was fitting that they were the team facing NPEC as part of the Coast’s centenary celebrations, as the Bay were their brothers and biggest rivals.
Cairns said the Bay were prepared to be the party crashers, and NPEC would expect nothing less than a good game of rugby.
“I’m sure there’ll be a big crowd and not too many red jerseys around. We’re going into it eyes wide open.”
Poverty Bay co-coach Miah Nikora said they had seen a lift in intensity at training this week, and he expects a fiery game, full of passion.
“You don’t need much motivation and motivating speeches to get the boys up . . . everyone’s aware (of the importance of the game) and it’s in the back of our minds.”
Nikora said the team would perform a haka before the game after not doing it last year because of the condensed season.
“The leadership team said it was really important going into this year to build the culture.”’
Nikora said today that the injuries to key players hadn’t had much effect on their preparations because they’d known about the majority of them for several weeks.
He said the news of Milner-Skudder starting for NPEC generated a lot of excitement during Thursday’s training, and the players were excited to show their skills against an All Black.
“I hope he knows he’s going to be in for a good game tomorrow.”
NPEC and Poverty Bay have a storied history, starting in 1921, when the sides first met, through to the modern era.
The 1921 game in Gisborne was won by NPEC 8-6, but it would not be until 1923 that the two sides would meet again after the formation of the East Coast Rugby Union.
Since then, although friendly, the rivalry has steadily grown, with the inclusion of the Skip Paenga Memorial Trophy contested at Poverty Bay home games and PJ Sayers Cup at NPEC home games.
The two teams have faced each other 169 times in the past century, with NPEC coming out victors on 39 occasions and Poverty Bay 125 times, with five draws.
NPEC have scored 1928 points, while Poverty Bay have notched up 3890 points.
FORMER All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder will make his debut in sky blue colours this weekend, starting at fullback for Ngati Porou East Coast.
Milner Skudder made 13 appearances for the All Blacks over a three-year period, scoring 60 points.
Now 30, he has suffered shoulder injury problems for the better part of five years but made his debut for the Highlanders this year. It was his first Super Rugby appearance since 2018, and he impressed from fullback.
Milner-Skudder is of Ngati Porou and Tapuika descent.
1. Nehe Papuni (YMP, on debut)
2. Rikki Terekia (c) (OBM, 14 caps, one try)
3. Toru Noanoa (Waikohu, 25 caps, one try)
4. Fletcher Scammell (HSOB, 4 caps)
5. Dan Law (Ngatapa, on debut)
6. Jesse Kapene (YMP, 13 caps, 2 tries)
7. Fawn White (YMP, 16 caps)
8. Morgan Reedy (OBM, 2 caps)
9. Ra Broughton (vc) ( Waikohu, 3 caps)
10. Jake Holmes (OBM, 20 caps, 25 points)
11. Te Peehi Fairlie (YMP, 17 caps, 11 tries)
12. Jacob Leaf (Waikohu, 12 caps)
13. Tione Hubbard (Waikohu, 2 caps)
14. Aaron McLelland (YMP, on debut)
15. Andrew Tauatevalu (YMP, 28 caps, 146 points)
Poverty Bay reserve players —
16. Shayde Skudder (YMP, 17 caps)
17. Jarryd Broughton (Waikohu, 3 caps)
18. Juston Allen (OBM, 28 caps, one try)
19. Keanu Taumata (OBM, on debut)
20. Mario Counsell (Waikohu, 57 caps, 3 tries)
21. Austin Brown (YMP, on debut)
22. Taine Aupouri (YMP, on debut)