THE Star senior team still has a chance to emulate last year’s team and qualify for the Premier Galbraith Shield final heading into the final round of matches this Saturday.
If Star can score four tries in the process of beating Pirates Old Boys by more than seven points, and keep the opposition to less than four tries, the team will likely make the final.
Marist could make the final ahead of Star if it can cause a major upset against Woodlands.
The high-flying Woodlands team thrashed Star 54-7 last week at Waverly Park in Invercargill.
Star had some key players unavailable for that match and was outclassed from the start.
Despite still being a good chance to make the final, co-coach Chris McIlwrick said the team had made hard work of it this year.
Star has let some games slip from their grasp, none more so than the last-minute 23-20 loss to Blues in round two.
In round five, lack of player depth contributed to its 27-26 loss to Pirates Old Boys.
This year Star has been without Southland Stags captain Brayden Mitchell, who is resting niggling injuries. Mitchell also had years of Super Rugby experience.
Another key player missing from last year is lock Manaaki Selby-Ricket, who has been a full-time member of the Highlanders this season.
The absence of these two professionals has contributed to a less than reliable Star lineout this season.
When combined with injuries and player unavailability, Star has struggled to get a consistent group of forwards at training and games each week, to get the lineout performing.
Discipline and game management have also been “work-ons” this season.
Young Ben Pope played fullback last year but had moved into first five-eighth this year.
Pope had the skill-set to be a success in the 10 jersey and was progressing well, McIlwrick said.
Front rowers Greg Pleasants-Tate and Chris Apoua have made life difficult for their opposition, but it is the loose forward Jordan Stewart who is the team’s chief destroyer both on attack and defence.
Stewart returned in time for round one after a stint playing for Young Munster in Ireland and played his 50th game for Star in July.
Veteran loose forward Mark McHugh, who debuted for Star 20 seasons ago, also had a stint with Young Munster in 2008.