Canterbury look to maintain title stranglehold

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Lynn McConnell     25 Oct 2017     Getty Images

Canterbury halfback Jack Stratton said Canterbury were proud of their record at finals time and that was something they had embraced but the side this year were looking forward to the chance to play in front of their home crowd and excited at the prospect of winning for this year's team.
"A Canterbury – Tasman clash is always tough. Whether it's true or not, the big brother – little brother [situation] fuels them a bit to go a bit extra on the field.

"We know the threats they pose and it's going to be a ding-dong [battle]. We just can't wait," he said.

Stratton felt Canterbury had come together very well at the outset of the competition and that had given them a bit of a jump in the first round against Tasman, who they beat 39-0 in Nelson, as they had their Super Rugby players come back and they got lucky on the day.

"There's been a lot of games since then and they've come a long way and they've got a lot of threats so it'll be a different game," he said.

Canterbury go into the final having worked hard through the 11 weeks they have been together and there was a core of experienced players and they had contributed to the team's culture.

"Luke [Whitelock] has led the team awesome this year and guys like Timmy Bateman who's got plenty of experience in the backs. Being alongside guys like that has been just awesome," he said.

Tasman captain Alex Ainley said they had a slow start and dropped some early games and while they qualified fourth for the semifinals he said it didn't matter so long as you win the remaining two games.

"We've grown a lot since then [the season opener against Canterbury], we know that. We were pretty confident going into that first one, we learnt a few lessons and we're pretty confident going into this weekend too," he said.

While they played Canterbury in last year's final, losing 27-43, there would be some benefits from that experience this time around but against that Tasman were quite a different team now with several younger players who hadn't been in a finals situation.

"But in saying that, a lot of the leaders in the team have been in this situation, and were there last year so it'll help guide the young guys," he said.

Ainley said Canterbury were a good team who had everything to play for in the final while Tasman could take the view they had nothing to lose.

If they are to beat Canterbury they needed to throw the ball around, have some fun, play the rugby they have been playing while staying on their guns in every facet.

Having beaten Taranaki again to reach the final, Ainley said the side knew they were capable of playing well but in the early part of the season they hadn't really put their style of rugby together.

"We know we've trained well, and we have the style of footy there to do the job but we just hadn't put it together and I think against Taranaki we put long phases of play together and the type of footy we wanted to play. We knew it was there, it was just about putting it on the field," he said.

While Tasman had introduced several young players, Ainley was impressed with the way they had been tested and shown they were up to it and that had come through in the way the side were able to qualify for the semifinals.