There’s an aura of invincibility hanging over the eel pit at Mitchell Park in Otumoetai.
“We are very confident, we have a full squad, no injuries,” says Dan Holmes, charismatic leader of the Otumoetai Eels premiere rugby league team. “So bring it on.”
Holmes, the solid front rower and skipper of the Eels, is chipper even though the Eels square off with the unbeaten team of the Waikato competition, Taniwharau from Huntly, at Resthills Park at Glenview in Hamilton tomorrow afternoon, Saturday July 27.
“Because of the draw they haven’t played for three weeks. That could be a good or bad thing. But they are definitely beatable,” says Holmes. While Taniwharau are from a hotbed of rugby league – think Tawera Nikau, Lance Hohaia and Wairangi Koopu – Holmes is undaunted. “We’re ready.”
The Eels played Taniwharau in the first round and got beaten by ten points or a couple of tries. But the eels are primed to turn it back on them. “If we lose we get a life because we finished second before the play-offs. But we want to win - then we go straight to the final.”
That would probably account for the high expectation rippling through the club right now. “It’s probably four or five years since the Eels have done this well,” says Holmes. “Everyone in the club is ecstatic.”
Put that down to a team dynamic. “We have core of senior players, some of whom have been round the team for ten years. There’s a good leadership group in behind the captain,” says coach Grant Sundborn.
He reckons the Eels have snuck in under the radar after starting the season with two losses and a draw. “We have left it to the last minute to make a run, but it’s not how you start the season, it’s how you finish. They’re a good bunch of lads and everything is falling into place.”
Holmes says the team is also benefitting from the tougher Waikato competition. “More physical, more competitive, more teams and so we are getting great buy-in from all the players, from the club, from the committee, everyone.”
The Eels are also coming off the back of encouraging win over the Ngaruawahia Panthers last weekend. “They came over three weekends ago and gave us a bit of a touch up. How they beat us is how we turned round and beat them last weekend. It was great.”
There’s another incentive for success. Dan Holmes runs his own scaffolding business and employs several of the Otumoetai Eels players. “He jokingly tells them if they don’t turn up and if we don’t win they won’t have jobs,” says Grant Sundborn.
Regardless of outcome for the remainder of the season, Grant Sundborn says Eels have sent a message to the Waikato Rugby League that they are ready to play. And the Eels have the symptoms of finals fever already.