Sports correspondent & historian
Western Bay club rugby fans are embracing the short and sharp club season in their droves, with parking at an absolute premium around the local rugby grounds on Saturday afternoons.
Reports received from Murray Salt Stadium in Te Puke say supporters of Te Puke Sports and Tauranga Sports were seven and eight deep on the sidelines, as the two unbeaten premier 15 squared off last Saturday.
Both clubs have sat on the top perch of Baywide rugby in the last two decades.
Tauranga Sports have won the Baywide premier big prize on eight occasions, while Te Puke Sports have taken out the Baywide crown three times in the last nine seasons.
With the victor remaining the only unbeaten side of the current season premier title race and bragging rights on the line - both sides were fired up, as the referee signaled game on with his whistle.
The visitors drew first blood, charging down a clearing kick in the opening seconds of the encounter to touch the ball down.
The game was well and truly up for grabs at the halfway stage, with Tauranga Sports holding a narrow 8-6 advantage.
Two second half tries to Te Puke Sports weren’t enough to deny the visitors a hard fought 21-16 victory, and the outright lead after six rounds of the local premier competition.
Current Baywide champions Te Puna and the big improver of the season in Rangiuru, joined Tauranga Sports and Te Puke Sports in booking berths in the playoffs last weekend, with one round remaining in the preliminary contests.
The lead-in to the semi-finals could not have been scripted better, with all four contenders engaging in head-to-head battles this Saturday.
Tauranga Sports will take the top spot in the preliminary action and the added bonus of a home semi-final, if they get past Rangiuru at the Tauranga Domain.
Te Puke Sports will grab the second home playoff advantage, if they defeat Te Puna in the Western Bay extremities at Maramatanga Park.
Victory for both Tauranga Sports and Te Puke Sports could herald return fixtures against their round seven opponents, seven days later.
Western Bay Rugby administrators should be applauded for two actions that have produced three action-packed 2020 local rugby competitions.
The first decision was to have top and bottom four playoffs, which will give all eight premier and development sides a full nine weeks of competitions.
When Arataki said that they were unlikely to be able to field a Development team, the decision was made to invite Judea to move-up to field a team in the second echelon competition.
The decision has played dividends, with Judea having booked a top four playoff spot and the likelihood of a home semi-final, if the defeat Greerton Marist this weekend.
The Western Bay Senior Local competition, where former Baywide sides in Eastern Districts, Katikati and Papamoa have been joined but the Tauranga Sports, Greerton Marist and Te Puna third 15s, has also produced competitive rugby.
The introduction of the Gilbey Cup as a weekly challenge prize has given the competition an extra edge.
Eastern Districts who have undergone a real revival in fortunes, posted a five game winning streak, before Katikati spoiled their party last weekend with a knife-edge 27-25 win at the Paengaroa Domain.