On Sunday in Rotorua, the holders North Harbour and the challengers Bay of Plenty go head to head in a tussle that will grip the nation. Harbour is looking to retain the Spoon for the third consecutive season but in 2014 they look to have a genuine contender to battle against.
Let’s start with the recent history of the Spoon. Bay of Plenty started the century as holders until Vern Cotter sparked a demise that saw them fighting at the wrong end of the table. From 2003-2005, Northland built up a hugely impressive record, holding the Spoon and what’s more stringing together 27 straight defeats. Will that record ever be beaten? It is hard to imagine with even the mighty North Harbour slipping up once or twice a season. After the expansion of the NPC in 2006, the Spoon passed through a few hands as Manawatu, Counties-Manukau, Otago and Tasman took their turn until Harbour’s recent reign.
So how has Bay of Plenty become North Harbour’s greatest rival for the Spoon o’Wood? In 2011 they were only 2 points off top spot in the Premiership so quite rightly Sean Horan was packed off to the NZ Womens Sevens team and Kevin Schuler was brought back in as coach. Schuler had promised great things back in 2007 when the Bay were just pipped by Counties but had been lured to Japan where they recognised his huge losing potential. This time around with the Bay, Schuler was determined not to fail. Relegation was narrowly avoided in 2012 which was a setback but the standard of play promised better things to come.
Last season was a triumph as a single, careless win early in the season was swiftly forgotten as the Bay lost every other game, often snatching a late defeat against the odds. Relegation was easily achieved and pre-season planning for 2014 could focus on the big one – the Spoon o’Wood.
So how is form looking for these mighty unions ahead of Sunday’s clash? Well it has been a great battle already as neither has won a game but careless bonus points have tripped up both teams. Harbour picked one up against Waikato to leave the Bay in prime position only for the Bay to collapse late against Manawatu and gain 2 bonus points in the last 5 minutes. That shows what pressure can do to a team however well prepared it is and could affect the Bay psychologically on Sunday.
North Harbour still looks the team to beat, they hold the Spoon with pride and 7 consecutive defeats since last season shows that they are in great form. But look at Bay of Plenty’s losing run, 12 games and counting with a couple of completely dominant defeats this season where the loss has been wrapped up before half-time. North Harbour has to be careful, these Bay boys have shown they know how to lose with style.
Expect the country to grind to a halt on Sunday at 4.35pm gripped by this epic encounter. The TAB is paying $20 for the draw and with two teams so expert at avoiding victory, that could be easy money. If one team can clinch the defeat, they will become favourites for the Spoon o’Wood but expect this battle to last until the final game of the season.