It was one heck of a performance.
Last Friday night, the Bay of Plenty Steamers thrashed Manawatu Turbos 64-3 in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship semi-final to book a home final back at the Rotorua International Stadium this Friday at 7.35pm.
The Steamers host Hawke’s Bay with at stake promotion back to the Premiership where they last played in 2013.
The Steamers were unstoppable against a Manawatu Turbos side that looked like they wished they had never got on the bus in Palmerston North. True the Turbos were poor but all the essential elements that make up a champion rugby team are on show with the 2019 Steamers.
The forward pack must be the strongest fielded by Bay of Plenty for many a long season.
Getting parity up front against the major teams used to be the goal for Bay teams, but this season the big guns like Wellington and Waikato have been dominated.
Captain Aidan Ross is a tight-lipped post-match speaker in the wonderful history of New Zealand rugby, but he has led the renaissance from loosehead prop since recovering from a badly broken ankle last year.
Rotorua’s Baden Wardlaw has been the best of the locks used this campaign with the tough as teak warrior signing for the Blues in reward for his efforts.
Just last season he won his first cap for the Steamers aged 28. Never give up is his motto.
Now that openside flanker Mitch Karpik has found a way to keep the tape around his ears intact for 80 minutes, his performances match what he showed with the Chiefs.
If you want an example of a big hearted, small player outplaying bigger units every game, then Mitch is your man.
The Steamers scored 10 tries against Manawatu with a hat trick to the Fijian flyer Emoni Narawa topping the individual awards.
The brilliant young winger/fullback has been a revelation since Bay of Plenty signed him from under Waikato noses after he starred for Hamilton Boys’ High School.
He can accelerate from a standing start reminiscent of the great South African Bryan Habana and is quite happy to set up his mates for tries too.
His special talents will be seen next in a Blues jersey in Super Rugby where he could well be the next global star like All Black Sevu Reece was this year.
Perhaps the key strength to the Steamers in 2019 compared to previous seasons, is the depth of talent in the squad. In the final against the other Bay that depth may be the difference with 20 minutes to play.
Last Friday, Bay of Plenty Rugby opened up the Rotorua international Stadium gates and let the fans in for free. It was a well-conceived idea that worked. The stadium is a special place with a good-sized crowd in and worth points to the Steamers.
Forget about a New York state of mind. This Rotorua state of mind is a winner for Bay of Plenty Rugby.
As Rotorua’s very own Mike Delany said earlier in the week, he loved playing at the stadium when he was running the cutter for the Steamers. Now he is backs coach that feeling is obvious among the players.
Mitre 10 Cup Championship Final
Bay of Plenty v Hawke’s Bay
Rotorua international Stadium, 7.25pm. Friday.