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Takapuna underdone after weeks off before semi

Flagstaff Team

War horse…Takapuna stalwart Shane Neville on the charge against old rivals North Shore

Takapuna rugby premiers go into tomorrow’s North Harbour championship semi-final injury free but slightly undercooked from a lack of match play.

The side has only played one match in the last month, after defaults by Glenfield and Mahurangi and a bye last weekend in the quarter-finals.

“All the missing games – it’s a big problem over the season,” said Takapuna coach Aaron Katipa.

All Blacks prop Karl Tu’inukuafe is on international duty, “which is great for him, but a shame for us”, said Katipa.

Fine Inisi and, Aisea Halo are also out, having made the Tongan squad.

On the plus side for Takapuna, Moses Leo failed to make the cut for the New Zealand sevens squad going to the Olympics and will play in the semi-final.

“He comes in at centre and swaps with Fine,” said Katipa, who was cautiously optimistic about his side’s chances.

“Takapuna has been in the final a few times in recent years and fallen at the final hurdle, so we are just taking it one game at a time.”

“It’s the closest competition we’ve had for 15 years. It’s wide open.”

Takapuna has had a few big wins in 2021, but “we got towelled by North Shore” in a Friday night match.

“Shore finished top of the table of the pool matches so they have been the most consistent team of the season,” Katipa said.

• Takapuna plays Northcote at Onewa Domain, at 2.45 pm, while its premier two side plays North Shore at 1 pm.

Veteran clocks up 140 games

Takapuna captain Shane Neville celebrates his 140th game for the premier side in the semi-final clash against Northcote.

The 33-year-old lock told the Observer 2021 would be his last season if the side won the North Harbour title.

“I always wanted to go out on a championship… 2020 was supposed to be my last season but then Covid hit.”

Neville has won championships with Takapuna before – four in a row between 2006 to 2009 – at the tail end of a decade of Takapuna dominance.

“But it’s been a long-time between drinks,” said Neville, who was in a losing final side in 2017.

While a championship win was in his wider sights, “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We’re totally focussed on the semi-final this week.”

Takapuna has been an attacking power-house this season – winning 10 out of 13 matches and scoring 466 points, and finishing just one point behind North Shore on the points table.

A 39-10 thrashing by North Shore under lights at Onewa Domain in May changed Takapuna’s season, Neville said.

Takapuna had not been beaten in 2020 and “We thought we were the team to beat this year – but Shore turned up that night and really took it to us… they did us a huge favour,” Neville said.

“I would love to play Shore in the final – it would give us a chance for a bit of redemption.”

The side was shaping well for the business end of the season.

Takapuna’s backs were “almost the (North Harbour) Mitre 10 backline,” said Neville, who singled out Kade Banks, as having an excellent season.

“Our forward pack has been going well too.”

In addition to his stellar career for Takapuna, Neville played 35 provincial games: 28 for Northland (2014-2016) and seven for North Harbour (2010 and 2017).

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