**Updated to include Bay of Plenty Volcanix v Tasman Makos match report**
Round Four of the Farah Palmer Cup kicked off on Friday night with live coverage from what was to be a well played and well televised bunch of games with an upset or two thrown into the mix.
In Palmerston North on a slightly damp night the Manawatu Cyclones hosted bottom of the table Waikato at home at Central Energy Trust Stadium. With Waikato opening the game with a haka, they looked formidable and had the air of a team ready to win. This game was live on Sky Sport and commentated by the wonderful duo of Melodie Robinson and Ruby Tui). With poor discipline from both sides and plenty of tries a piece (4 for the Cyclones and 5 for Waikato), the game was a bit stop and start but managed to entertain with some def touches from both teams outside backs. Waikato managed to gain the upper hand in the dying minutes of the game and kick a penalty to deny the Cyclones two bonus points. Waikato walked away with the max of 5 points and the Cyclones with 1 point (for 4 tries or more). Full match report here
The second televised game of the round saw North Harbour Hibiscus host the Hawkes Bay Tuis at QBE Stadium on the North Shore in Auckland. Both teams came into the game looking for their first win of the season and the Tuis were favourites to take the points. With North Harbour showing great scrummaging and really good back line play they managed to break out to a 15-0 lead at half time. With the Tuis losing their half-back Gemma Woods part way through the second half, they never looked like recovering. The Tuis fullback Felicity Powdrell had a blinder of a game with some amazing high ball catches and runs that would put All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Damien McKenzie to shame. She is definitely one to watch to be a future Black Fern. With only one try scored in the second half North Harbour took the game 20-0 to breath life back into their campaign. The Tuis, with severe shortage in their ranks due to injury are yet to register their first win, but can leave knowing that they have some amazing potential and came close twice to scoring during this game.
The next game (not aired) had the Wellington Pride play host to the Auckland Storm at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua. The Pride looking for their second win on the trot after last weeks hard fought battle with Waikato and the Storm coming off their defeat to last years champions Counties. Wellington looked to have the upper hand in the first half with 3 tries and a penalty up against the Storms 2 try haul. Going into the break the Storm needed to get more points on the board if they wanted to keep their play off hopes alive. Back into the second half both teams traded tries but poor kicking from Wellington put them on the back foot with Auckland scoring 3 tries to 2 and converting 2 out of 3 taking the game with a close 31-30 win.
Counties Power Heat hosted Canterbury (not aired but should have been) at Massey Park in Papakura, on a warm spring day, with not only competition points up for grabs but also the JJ Stewart Trophy as well. Rules indicate that whoever holds the Trophy will put it up for contest at every home game. With Counties only having the Trophy for a week, after beating the Auckland Storm for it last week, Canterbury welcomed back star Black Fern Kendra Cocksedge for this challenge. The first half saw the Power Heat run away with a commanding lead scoring 4 tries and kicking 2 conversions. Canterbury managed a five pointer onto the scoreboard before closing out for the break. Back into the second half and Canterbury coach Wayne Love must have given a “Remember the Titans” level speech because the players packed on five tries plus a conversion to one try and won the game 32-29, giving Counties their first defeat of the season, and having maybe the shortest reign of JJ Stewart Trophy holding in history. This win for Canterbury now make them holders of the JJ Stewart Trophy Cup.
**The last game of the round sees the Bay of Plenty Volcanix host the Tasman Makos at Tauranga Domain for the final televised match this weekend. This game was had opening running, great handling skills from both sides and set moves off the scrum for days! This was really enjoyable to watch and I was routing for the Makos to pick up their first win, but alas not today. The score line was 38-15 to the Volcanix and you can read the match report here.
We are now at the stage where every point (including bonus ones) count. By sheer dint of dominance Counties are still at the top of the table with 17 points despite their first loss of the season (with the Volcanix levelling with them after this afternoons game. And with the bye weekend on Round Five for Counties things are going to be close between all the Premiership teams as only one point separates 3rd place through to 6th place.
Over in the Championship, the Volcanix look to have it in the bag. Even with a loss to Tasman tomorrow they are still sitting at the top of the table as the Otago Spirit had the bye this weekend. Otago are also looking good for a semi-finals berth but that leaves the other three teams to battle it out for the second semi-final spot. In case you’re wondering, the top finishing team in the Championship gets the bye for the semi finals and only faces the winner from second and third seed semi-final.
With the season now being split wide open, it’s anyones for the taking right now. Next week sees the second “cross-over” for Round Five, where one team from the Premiership takes on a team from the Championship.