Chiefs must win title the hard way

Date published: July 7 2014

The Chiefs usually qualify for the play-offs amongst the top two places but this year they are desperate to reach the knockout stages.

The Chiefs usually qualify for the play-offs amongst the top two places but this year they are just desperate to reach the knockout stages.

They must win their final league match against the Blues on Friday to reach the play-offs and then take on the challenge of becoming the first team to win the title from outside the top two positions.

Since the start of 15-team competition in 2011, the Reds won the title after finishing the league phase of the tournament as the top seeds. The Chiefs won their titles in 2012 and 2013 after finishing in second and first places respectively at the end of the regular season.

That gave them a bye during the opening rounds of the play-offs and not having to leave home for either semi-finals or finals. But that is to change if they want to remain the champions.

“Obviously we're just desperate to be part of the mix still and if we can get through this weekend then we're part of the six and it's just knockout footy where you have to get it right for 80 minutes each week,” Chiefs boss Dave Rennie told Fairfax Media.

“The key is we can't worry too much about that or even where we're going to finish, which is probably anywhere between fourth and sixth based on how many points we get and how many points our rivals get.”

Rennie said the priority was beating the Blues on Friday night and if they scored four or more tries in the process it would be a bonus.

The Waratahs' 44-16 victory over the Highlanders in Sydney on Sunday highlighted that good teams didn't have to be off their game by much to suffer a big loss in such a close-fought tournament.

“The Waratahs were pretty impressive but it showed if you're just a couple of cogs off you can get belted by someone as we did by the Hurricanes a few weeks back,” added Rennie.

“She's tight and there's a lot of desperation. You look at the Force bouncing back to beat the Reds, which was a good effort from them and they're one win away from getting into play-off footy too for the first time so there's a lot on the line for a lot of teams this weekend.”

The Chiefs found the right balance in their line-up against the Hurricanes and after numerous back-line changes due to injuries and form this season aren't expected to make major changes for their clash with the Blues.

They are, however, sweating on the fitness of midfielder Charlie Ngatai, who has been battling to overcome injuries this season.

This time Ngatai is struggling with a shoulder knock, which is a partial dislocation, and Rennie revealed that they were still awaiting scan results to find out the extent of the damage done and whether he would be able to play this weekend.

“It's disappointing because he's a hell of a good player and provides you with something a bit different,” said Rennie.

“He's got a good skill set, a good kicking game and is very quick. I thought he went very well for the 50-odd minutes he played [against the Hurricanes].”