Last updated 19:59, May 24 2016
Whiti Te Ra on top
Otaki's Whiti Te Ra enjoy unbeaten start to Wellington club rugby league season
Whiti Te Ra have won nine consecutive matches to start the season, their 30-18 win over Randwick Kingfishers at Otaki Domain their latest victory.
They are four points clear on top of the table halfway through the season.
They announced themselves on the scene in their first game, an 82-4 mauling of St George Dragons, but the Randwick victory and a thrilling 22-20 win in Wainuiomata the week before has shown the team's mettle.
Captain Manaia Osborne, Teariki Peneha, Hayden Davis, Tamati Davis, Dane Cooper, Himiona Henare and Aaron Whitikia have earned call-ups to the Wellington Orcas training squad.
Assistant coach Rahiri Edwards thought the team had exceeded Wellington's expectations.
"At this stage we're doing pretty well. We were expecting at least to compete, but we don't think they expected us to be any good."
It is Whiti Te Ra's first year in the Wellington competition, after club administrators decided to leave the Manawatu competition, seeking tougher opposition.
Whiti Te Ra won three successive titles in the Manawatu before leaving. They have lost two games in three and a half seasons, and remain unbeaten at the Otaki Domain for four years.
Edwards said the core of the team has stayed together.
"We've had the bunch for the past three years now ... some boys who were a bit younger are a bit more mature."
"A lot of us are cousins. It's pretty family-orientated."
He said the team's high fitness levels are maintained through touch rugby in the Kapiti competition during the off-season.
This year the team has brought in some new faces, like Henare, a fullback and goalkicker, winger Jeff Mua and prop Ethan Keith from the defunct Levin and Kapiti clubs.
Edwards said the new faces have added more competition, while good players who are not first-choices have largely stuck around, giving the coaches a strong 25-man squad to choose from.
He said Osborne and Peneha, who have played for the Parramatta Eels and Newcastle Knights under-20 sides respectively, provide the direction.
"They bring leadership. They lead by example ... they know the game inside-out."
Peneha, who plays lock, is averaging about 40 tackles a game this season.
"He cleans up a lot around the ruck area. Nothing gets past him to be honest," Edwards said.
Despite their unbeaten record, Edwards said dropped ball and ill-discipline is still holding his team back, citing the nine penalties conceded in the opening 20 minutes against Wainuiomata.
"We haven't hit our straps yet. We're still making a lot of little errors.
"To be honest that's what's keeping some of the Wellington teams in the game."
He said the team are targeting a fourth successive title, but have lost the surprise edge they had in the early rounds.
"Hopefully we peak at the right time of year.
"The game's are getting a lot tougher. We're carrying a target on our back."
Whiti Te Ra's next match is against St George Dragons at Otaki Domain on Saturday.