The 2018 rugby season had plenty of highs and lows from a Bay of Plenty perspective, with the continued increase in women playing the game a highlight.
It seems with every deft flick pass and scorching outside break by Michaela Blyde and Portia Woodman, more and more teenaged girls are moving from other sports to try their luck at sevens or fifteens.
The extraordinary sight of women’s players and teams cleaning up at the NZ Rugby Awards would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
In this year’s Baywide women’s club final, Rangataua Sports edged Rangiuru Sports in a 22-21 thriller with plenty of the high performing BOP Volcanix on show.
The Volcanix performed well in the Farah Palmer Cup Premiership after successfully winning the 2017 Championship final. A highlight was defeating Auckland Storm 34-29 at Eden Park for the first time.
But the Steamers were hugely disappointing. After coming so close to beating Wellington in the 2017 promotion final, expectations were high that they could go all the way to the premiership.
But four wins from 10 games was a poor return that saw them miss the semifinals – the bottom line achievement for a union with Bay of Plenty’s playing talent.
Sure, injuries tested the squad’s depth more than coaches feared but an inability to score tries throughout the campaign was the biggest handicap. The positive was the blooding of several academy players, who now have experience at a higher level.
There was no shortage of attacking ability from the champion BOP under-19 team that won the Graham Mourie Cup at the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 Tournament in Taupo. The thrilling 35-30 victory over Canterbury was a turning point for the team that had never made a final before.
The DJ Graham Player of the Tournament was awarded to BOP fullback Kaleb Trask. Trask hugely proved influential in the final with a 20-point haul leading his team to victory. The NZ Under 20 rep later made his Mitre 10 Cup debut for the Steamers and looked assured at that level.
Earlier in the season, the Farmlands Co-operative Baywide club competitions produced plenty of memorable moments and games to remember.
The rise and rise of Te Puna, which will celebrate 100 years in 2019, was great to see. They made their intentions clear during last summer by cleaning up the club sevens titles and going through the Baywide first round unbeaten.
The inevitable end to that run came, but it did not stop Te Puna making it all the way to their first premiership final where they faced home side Te Puke Sports.
In the end the passionate Te Puke pirates were too good on the day and richly deserved to win their third Baywide title. They also took out the Development title while next door neighbours Rangiuru won the Premier 2 title.
There is plenty to look forward to for BOP rugby fans in 2019 – more wins please Steamers!