League: Hornets sting Leopards to win first ever shield
Howick tends to evoke images of retirement homes, careful driving, bowling clubs and shopping malls.
One doesn't normally associate the East Auckland suburb with rugby league, but it now can boast the top club in the region.
The Hornets' Fox Memorial Shield win yesterday - in their first final appearance - seems unlikely but the result was never in doubt.
After an early Otahuhu try, Howick led for the rest of the match. They were ahead 12-4 at halftime and held a 12-point advantage with 20 minutes to go.
The Leopards closed to within six points before Howick sealed the match at Mt Smart Stadium with a late try. Mark Lemalu was the Hornet's hero with a hat-trick of tries.
With this being the club's 50th jubilee, and after having spent their entire history in the lower divisions, it's a footie fairytale.
"This is massive for the club and the boys are over the moon," said Howick player-coach Lee Wetherill. "We had a three-year plan and everything has come to fruition. We dominated them physically and set the standard on defence, while our completions on attack meant they didn't really get a chance."
Wetherill, 33, returned from Australia in 2009 and decided to play out his career at his local club. He persuaded other locals to return to the Hornets and cajoled five players from Pakuranga Rugby Club to switch codes.
"It has been great to get the local boys back," says Wetherill. "We used to always lose a lot of players to other areas. The other key is that we have managed to keep the same bunch of guys each year, whereas other teams tend to chop and change."
They won the second division title (and Sharman Cup) in 2009, and in 2010 reached the Fox Memorial semifinals for the first time. They dropped just two games on their way to the minor premiership.One was a 16-10 loss to the Leopards in the final game of the regular season.
"We like to keep it simple - a St George style of game," says Wetherill. "There is nothing flash. We are just ruthless on defence and try to complete our sets and do the basics."
In the Sharman Cup, Pt Chevalier beat Bay Roskill 24-16, while New Lynn took out the Phelan Shield with a 32-30 win over Papatoetoe.
Howick Hornets 24 (M. Lemalu 3, A. Gelling, J. Tavita tries; Leroy Fa'avesi 2 goals) .
Otahuhu Leopards 14 (R. Tu, A. Nafetalai tries; S. Vuna, S. Walker goals).
I think there's an understanding between the ARL and clubs this year that non Warriors players are made available for crucial club matches. Te Atatu were the form club last year heading towards the finals but had some of their best players picked in the Vulcans when they really needed them and as a result, bowed out in the semi-finals. Otahuhu on the other hand, kept their best players like Nafetelai, in their Fox side and took out the competition. Te Atatu tried to start a movement amongst the clubs to force the ARL to drop the Vulcans team this year, it got some support but was unsuccessful of course.
There's also ARL rules about the number of games a player has to play in competition to be eligable for the playoffs which I'm sure applies to the Vulcans and NYC players when dropping back to the Auckland comps.