Graeme Beasley previews this year’s National Provincial Championship by looking back at past disappointments

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Shaun Treeby takes the ball up during the ITM Cup rugby union match between the Wellington Lions and Manawatu Turbos at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand on Saturday, 1 September 2011. Photo: Dave Lintott / lintottphoto.co.nzTo be a true Wel­ling­ton sports fan you need to be able to accept raised expect­a­tions fol­lowed by dis­ap­point­ment. This is a com­mon fea­ture across most codes with pro­fes­sion­al sides based here, but at the top of the list is the Wel­ling­ton Lions.

In the years fol­low­ing the 2000 tri­umph the side has done well. They have made the final on no few­er than sev­en occa­sions. And each time they have fallen at the last hurdle in a vari­ety of ways.

The set of sev­en, presen­ted in chro­no­lo­gic­al order, is as follows:

 

2003: Auckland 41, Wellington 29

And so it begins. Three sea­sons after win­ning the NPC, Wel­ling­ton took on our friends from the City of Sales full of con­fid­ence thanks to some Deans/Mitchell crazi­ness that allowed Chris­ti­an Cul­len to play instead of being at a World Cup in Aus­tralia at the time. But the home side was in strut­ting form, and ran out com­fort­able win­ners. Orene Ai’i was the star of the show. It’s not often you get to say that.

2004: Wellington 27, Canterbury 40

This was the one we were meant to win. Top of the table in the round-robin, Wel­ling­ton were in a home final against Can­ter­bury, who we’d beaten earli­er in the sea­son. Ma’a Nonu even wore mas­cara in pre­par­a­tion for the cel­eb­ra­tions. But the All Black-laden Can­ter­bury pack ground it out, before the floodgates opened up in the second half. And Dan Carter laughed at Nonu and poin­ted at him. But only after the game was safe.

2006: Waikato 37, Wellington 31

It was the first year of the ITM Cup, with a format nobody under­stood. Nev­er mind, Wel­ling­ton won its quarter-final in Christ­ch­urch of all places. The semi was in Auck­land, who were set aside 30–15. Wow; this was just like 2000 all over again. Off to Cow Town for the final, and the bell-ringers ground out the win. Kelle­her and Leonard scored three tries between them, and there was a giant burn-out to cel­eb­rate, set to the dis­tant sound of roar­ing chain­saws. 

2007: Auckland 23, Wellington 14

The year of rest and rota­tion meant that even at finals time the All Blacks were not around. Once again, a trip to Christ­ch­urch proved no prob­lem when the game wasn’t a final. The final was a trip to Auck­land, and the home side pre­vailed in a dour and com­pletely for­get­table match. 

2008: Wellington 6, Canterbury 7

Once again, Wel­ling­ton were minor premi­ers, and had picked up the Ran­furly Shield along the way after 25 years by beat­ing Auck­land 27–0. So the NPC was just a form­al­ity, right? Not so; a rub­bish night in the cap­it­al suited our friends in red and black per­fectly, and they ground it out.

2009: Canterbury 28, Wellington 20

This time, the fourth final in suc­ces­sion, it was off to Lan­caster Park to play them. And you know it’s not going to be your day when Colin Slade scores two tries in the first half. Catch-up foot­ball was required, and it’s always hard doing that there.

That was the sheep-rust­lers’ second title in suc­ces­sion. They now have five in a row under their belt, and head to the cap­it­al to try in six. The hosts will be try­ing to avoid a sev­enth con­sec­ut­ive final defeat.

2013: Wellington 13, Canterbury 29

So after six lost finals in sev­en years, Wel­ling­ton took to semi-final exits instead. The minor premi­er­ship was sewn up with a round to spare and things looked good. But, once the knock­out matches began, it was obvi­ous that the final would be against them yet again. And when it turned out to be a wet day the out­come was pre­dict­able. The match was as good as over by half-time.

One day this run of events will be broken, but a true Wel­ling­to­ni­an knows we must not get ahead of ourselves.

About Graeme Beasley

One of those rare people: a born and bred Wel­ling­to­ni­an. And enough of a Wel­ling­to­ni­an to know how to pro­nounce Majoribanks Street. Has a soft spot for the Makara wind farm, the south coast and the buck­et foun­tain, but refuses to toot the horn in the Mt Vic­tor­ia tun­nel. Very famil­i­ar in hand­ling the full range of emo­tions gen­er­ated by sup­port­ing Wel­ling­ton sports team. Works in IT.

About Graeme Beasley

One of those rare people: a born and bred Wellingtonian. And enough of a Wellingtonian to know how to pronounce Majoribanks Street. Has a soft spot for the Makara wind farm, the south coast and the bucket fountain, but refuses to toot the horn in the Mt Victoria tunnel. Very familiar in handling the full range of emotions generated by supporting Wellington sports team. Works in IT.

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