Counties Manukau Steelers mascot Poppy the goat. ITM Cup rugby game between Counties Manukau Steelers and Waikato, played at ECOLight Stadium Pukekohe on Saturday 6th of October 2012. Waikato won the game 32 - 28.

Rugby: Scotty Stevenson’s Inaugural ITM Cup Power Rankings

It may not have the pizzazz of the Super Rugby season or the hype of the Rugby World Cup, but make no mistake: the ITM Cup is the best ten weeks of rugby this year, and every year.  Where else do grown men run around in the kind of deer outfit that would make a fetishist Furry weak at the knees? This is the land of the bucket heads, and the Zoo, the Razor back and Poppy the Goat. This is where the tournament organisers run a billboard campaigning trolling every one of their competing provinces!

And so, as a mark of respect to this institution, The Spinoff is proud to present its first ITM Cup Power Rankings of 2015.

1. Vaea Fifita, Wellington Lions

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Because he has run for 355 metres this season. And because he has scored four tries. And because he is just a freak who can run like a wing and hit like a bus. Trust Wellington to find a player who can play four different positions and still look like a beast in all of them.

2. The ECOlight Stadium Hot Dog: Diet of Champions

The Carny caravan of deep fried food should be a fixture at every rugby match, and every Pukekohe patron knows that the best hot dogs in the land are served up behind the main stand at ECOlight. This is as close to perfection as highly processed sausage of indeterminate origin coated in highly processed white flour batter and lathered in highly processed tomato sauce gets.

Moreover, this is not your typical frozen meat confection; the ECOlight hotdog is freshly battered to ensure it comes out of the deep fry as mutated as Jeff Goldblum after that unfortunate fly mix up. All the better to hold the sauce on.

3.  Tony Lamborn, Hawkes Bay Magpie

Brendon O’Connor could very well have this spot but Lamborn gets it because how the bloke does not have a Super Rugby contract is one of the great mysteries of the modern world. Lamborn just looks angry, all the time. He also tackles at 91 percent and has run for 250 metres this season while scoring two tries. The Spinoff Sports officially starts its campaign for the Lamborn contract right here.

4. Jeremy Thrush, Wellington Lion

You could have forgiven Jeremy Thrush for staying home and sulking like a teenager who isn’t allowed to go on a sleep over after missing out on the All Blacks RWC Squad. Instead, he said ‘chin up’ (not easy with a chin that big) and proceeded to play like a boss against the Stags in his first game back in the Cup.

Thrush was a one man highlight reel last Saturday, finishing the match with a hat trick of tries – the first scored by a lock in provincial history since the formation of the national provincial championship in 1976. The fact Thrush always looks like a startled Buzz Lightyear when he scores just adds to the joy.

5. Colin Cooper, Taranaki Coach

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Old Koro Cooper’s facial expression has not changed in two decades. We respect that. Especially with the defending champions on 1-3 heading into round five.

6. Scott Robertson, Canterbury Coach

This is what happens when you cross Keanu Reeves with Jean Claude Van Damme, and add a dictionary of modern rugby metaphors. In Razor Robertson’s world you are not excited, you are ‘pumped up like a bouncy castle’ and that was not a fend, that was ‘the best palm this side of Nadi’.

The joy of Razor is that his team love him, and how could you not love a coach who has not once, but twice breakdanced after winning titles – once in 2013 with the Canterbury side and again this year when the New Zealand under 20s claimed  the world championship.

Oh, and his team plays like robots. Really good robots.

7. Joe Hill, Wellington Lion

At the OBU Club this Wellington winger is referred to simply as ‘Chaos’ for the fact he is an uncoachable freak, but the wiry kid is living the dream off a feast of ball supplied by unwanted All Black Cory Jane. Hill runs like he has just held up a liquor store and forgotten where he parked the getaway car. You don’t know whether to tackle or taser him.

With 277 metres carried, Hill now ranks as the leading defender beater in the competition, and has been a key part of Wellington’s unbeaten run.

8. Peter Samu. Tasman Mako

In one of the greatest moves in the history of the competition, Tasman’s Peter Samu last week more than doubled his season tackle count in the match against Otago. After three rounds the try scoring Aussie freak had put up the kind of tackle numbers that would make Quade Cooper blush – a staggering two per match. However, in a turnaround performance, Samu proceeded to pull off an amazing seven tackles last Friday, taking his tally to 13 in four games.

9. Brad Mooar, Stags Coach

This has nothing to do with his record, which currently reads one win, one draw and three losses, but the future Crusaders Assistant Coach takes a big leap up the Spin Off power rankings with a bravura half time interview performance in the match against the Wellington Lions. The eternally youthful Mooar can lay claim to an historic first with a live coach F-bomb in his TV chat with ‘Bone Middleton’.

Not satisfied with the accidental cursing, Mooar then finished the interview by congratulating his parents on their golden wedding anniversary. It was the best half time coach chat ever.

10. Poppy the Goat, Unofficial Mascot

Counties Manukau Steelers mascot Poppy the goat. ITM Cup rugby game between Counties Manukau Steelers and Waikato, played at ECOLight Stadium Pukekohe on Saturday 6th of October 2012. Waikato won the game 32 - 28.

Photo by Richard Spranger

If ever a live mascot perfectly encapsulated a season, it is the nation’s preeminent cloven hooved ruminant, Poppy. After a brief cameo appearance in the opening match against Manawatu, Counties-Manukau’s very own Poppy has been largely disinterested in the footy, choosing instead to graze behind the fence in the neighbour’s yard.

Interestingly, the Steelers’ season has pretty much been the same: dropping to three straight defeats after a points extravaganza against the Turbos. Unless Poppy can regain her 2013 star power interest levels, Tana’s men may well struggle to make the play offs. Plus the real mascot is named for a band, which was itself named for a dildo. That in itself is amazing.

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