- By Adam Julian
“When Luca Rees broke, I cramped getting to the ruck. I hobbled towards the wing to try and recover. A few phases later Luca found me in enough space to fall over and finish,” Campbell Woodmass recalls of his winning try for Northern United in the Jubilee Cup semi-final against Tawa.
The halfback was study of composure and tactical nous as Norths overcame a 0-17 deficit to prevail by one point. How did they do it?
“Every game has been a dogfight this year. We’ve been slow to start, but once we work ourselves into it, we’ve had the composure and skill to get results,” Woodmass theorises.
Woodmass is no stranger to finals footy. In 2018, in his 40th blazer appearance for Ponsonby, he helped the Auckland powerhouse win the Gallaher Shield decider against University. Injury and restlessness had lured Woodmass from Porirua to the City of Sails.
“I went to College Rifles and started a building apprenticeship which has helped me go into business with my brother,” Woodmass explains.
“It was a pre-season visit to Ponsonby that changed my rugby club. I was blown away by the history and culture there and was lucky to be part of a championship winning team.”
Woodmass attended Mana College and played First XV rugby with All Black TJ Perenara, the latter often shifting to first-five to accompany Woodmass at halfback.
Perenara’s rapid rise to the professional ranks and a crippling knee injury hampered the progress of Woodmass.
“I did an ACL, MCL and meniscus in my knee and missed the whole of the 2014 season,” Woodmass mourns.
Meanwhile Norths went from making 10 consecutive Jubilee Cup semi-finals to contesting the Hardham Cup for four successive seasons.
“We weren’t ready for success. We had so many players promoted to the higher level we lost sight of building the base. We had to start again,” Woodmass stresses.
Re-establishing greater depth has been a factor in Norths’ resurgence. Luca Rees has scored 18 tries in 15 games, but upon return from suspension has been unable to reclaim his place in the starting line-up.
“Luca brings great spark from the bench, but he’s pretty keen to get his starting spot back. That competition within the squad is great,” Woodmass says.
Rees incurred his suspension after being red-carded in a 24-22 loss to Wainuiomata in the second round of the Jubilee Cup. Apart from retaining a full complement of players, what does Norths have to do in order to win a fifth Wellington championship against Wainuiomata on Saturday?
“We have to focus on the game plan and not to get overwhelmed by the occasion. There will be ebbs and flows and managing those will be crucial,” Woodmass replied.
Norths will be without Wellington Lions first-five Jackson Garden-Bachop who is absent on holiday. The raw Eli Moata’a is a likely starter at ten.
“Eli is chomping at the bit to play,” Woodmass acclaims
“His energy has freshened me up, but it’s important to keep him grounded.”
Can Norths stay grounded? History shows the performance of their halfback will be essential. In 2006, future Samoan international Lua Vaoloaloa won the Jim Brown Memorial Medal as the player of the final, while Perenara received the same accolade four years later, as did Steven So’oialo for Tawa in 2013.
The Jubilee Cup final between Norths and Wainuiomata is at the Petone Rec this Saturday at 2:30pm.
Below: Woodmass scores the winning try against Tawa in their 18-17 semi-final win: