OPOTIKI Tai Mitchell players finished the tournament with a win and many great memories both on and off the field.
Finishing seventh overall, the 2019 campaign has been a tough one for the Opotiki players but not without its highlights.
The four-day tournament held at Tarawera Park in Kawerau was the culmination of months of training for the team and for a few players, some nervous weigh-ins to meet the 53-kilogram restriction.
On day two of the tournament, Opotiki scored a try against tournament runners-up Te Puke which was a golden moment for the team.
“It was like they’d won the world cup,” Opotiki Tai Mitchell coaches Shane Chapman and Dean (Skugs) Andrews said.
Defending champions Te Puke had given all other teams bar Tauranga West a drubbing and only the day before in atrocious wet conditions had beaten Rangitaiki, who ended up third, 53 points to nil. Te Puke also beat Whakatane 82-5 in a pre-tournament round. Whakatane ended up fifth overall.
For the Opotiki players representing their region and having the opportunity to play among the best 230-plus weight-restricted players in the Bay was a highlight.
“Staying together on a marae near Whakatane and having that time to bond as a team was a great experience.”
On the lay-day for the ninth and 10th placed teams, Opotiki went to Tauranga for a day-trip.
“It was a good day away from the rugby field and got the boys doing something quite different.
“We went to lazer tag which was a highlight for most of the players and they returned with some renewed energy and ready for the last game of the tournament against Galatea,” Chapman said.
As to the future of the Tai Mitchell, Chapman and Andrews believe there is still a place for the tournament and for Opotiki to be part of it.
The 2019 tournament was Chapman’s seventh year with the team and he’s likely to put his hand up again in 2020 to co-coach.
Historically, Opotiki, like most teams, produces a competitive team every few years and had fourth placings in 2017, 2011 and 2002. The year prior, in 2001, Opotiki were the Tai Mitchell champions.
Even defending champions Te Puke with their renowned rugby academy and two Fijian import players, weren’t able to claim the Tai Mitchell Shield for a third consecutive year, with Tauranga West too strong in the final.
Organised by the Bay of Plenty Primary Schools Association, the Tai Michell tournament has an 81-year history and is New Zealand’s second oldest sporting competition.
Suggestions to improve the tournament include changing the format so after the pre-tournament rounds, there is a top six and bottom four competition. This would make for more even games for all teams, but wouldn’t enable teams the opportunity to compete for the overall honours.
Allowing girls to trial for the teams has been an ongoing question for many years. Eastern Bay Rugby manager Mark Seymour said feedback he had sought showed a preference for girls teams to compete in their own Tai Mitchell tournament starting with three representative teams from within the Bay – Eastern, Western and Central.
The suggestion to trial the girls open weight under-13 competition in 2020 would be raised at the Tai Mitchell tournament de-brief.
Tai Mitchell 2019 results:
Tauranga West 31, Te Puke 24
Tauranga East 19, Rangitaiki 31
Whakatane 24, Rotorua Maroon 22
Tauranga North 14, Rotorua Gold 33
Galatea 15, Opotiki 33