Season bolters Palmyra meet competition leaders Associates in a fascinating contest at Allen Park in Saturday’s RugbyWA club competition match of the round, sponsored by KWIK Transport and Crane Hire.

It's a battle few expected to be of such interest at the start of the season. Palmyra won the least wanted prize in WA rugby in 2008, the wooden spoon, and despite a flurry of recruiting over the summer, seemed unlikely to be sitting at third on the table with just one last-gasp loss to their names. The young Associates team finished sixth in 2008 and while expected to improve, would not have been predicted to lead the competition with five bonus point wins going into round six.

Five weeks into the competition both teams are flying high and playing successful, entertaining rugby. Centres Tukia Muli and Nathan Cummins have been a revelation for Soaks, ably supported by enterprising halfback Justin Turner, fullback-turned-flyhalf Matt Dreyer and exciting new fullback Zac Holmes. The electric combinations and confidence they showed against University last week would rattle any team in the competition and Soaks look firmly on course to return to their 2001-06 status as finals regulars.

The only cloud on the Associates horizon is the flattering draw they have enjoyed in the season thus far. But even with Wanneroo and Perth-Bayswater to play in the next two weeks to wrap up the first half of the season, the Swanbourne club is ideally placed for a successful run to the finals in September.

Palmyra’s stocks have suffered a slight setback with a 17-15 loss to fifth-placed Cottesloe, a penalty kick on the final whistle stealing the match from under their noses, and subsequent results have shown that the wins over Kalamunda and Nedlands weren’t the breakthroughs they once seemed. Paly must also finish their draw against Wanneroo and Perth-Bayswater and a loss against Soaks could knock them from the top four, with Nedlands and Cottesloe hard on their heels.

However, Palmyra’s improbable resurrection is again producing the classy rugby that took them to successive finals in 2006 and 2007, with players such as versatile flanker Kiti Fuluna, captain and hooker Steve Silva, flanker Jerry Viriki, and fullback Tajhon Mailata.

Palmyra coach Dave Fall laughs at rumours of a Palmyra spending spree to replenish their playing stocks.

“We've been very lucky with players that were in Perth, and we've picked up a few of their mates coming over to join them,” Fall said.

Silva joined Palmyra from Wellington, New Zealand, along with new flyhalf Quintin Austin, who also originally hails from New Zealand. A couple of former Paly regulars have returned to the team after extensive injury breaks last season, such as lanky lock Chris Rankin and Viriki, and Joji Soqoiwasa and Fuluna have joined from Wests-Subiaco for personal reasons.

Palmyra's rocket-propelled renaissance this year has been impressive but Fall is adamant that no one in the Melville club is about to get carried away this early in the season.

“We're proving to be pretty competitive, and it's a dreadful old adage, but one game at time will do for us at the moment,” Fall said.

“It's a big ask to jump from where we were last year right into the finals.

“When you start the season, that's where you want to be, and that's what we're trying to achieve, but we just can't get ahead of ourselves.”

Although Palmyra’s results have been outstanding, Fall is quick to highlight other factors.

“I’m not sure results this early in the season are an indication of how things will be later in the round and in the second round,” Fall said.

“Some of the teams we did beat are more than likely going to up their game and things will level out a bit.

“I’ve been pleased that considering that there’s quite a few new faces in there that they’ve got together and gelled reasonably well, but I’m sure they can get a lot better.”

Palmyra suffered a reality check with the loss against Cottesloe and Fall makes no excuses.

“They were the better team on the day,” Fall said.

“We didn’t deserve to win that game. We should have closed it out but we coughed up a penalty right on the death.

“It’s a huge lesson to be learned.”

Another tough game looms against Associates and despite a couple of fitness tests on Thursday, a first string Palmyra team should take the field.

“We had a trial against them earlier in the year,” Fall said.

“They gave us a bit of a run round then when we were trying to sort ourselves out.

“It’s going to be a really interesting game and one we’re certainly looking forward to.

“We just have to make sure we don’t make as many mistakes as last week, and get a bit meaner about giving away possession.”

Kalamunda’s match against University at Hartfield is as unexpected as the Soaks-Palmyra game, if at the other end of the scale. After standing head and shoulders above the competition in 2008, it was inconceivable at the start of the season that a round six game involving the reigning premiers would be rated the contest of the lower-table battlers.

Kalamunda lost experience from their forward pack over the summer but their back line has as much talent as ever, and why they have just one win to their name so far this season is one of WA rugby’s great mysteries. If this game marks the start of a fairy tale comeback, the rest of their season will need to be huge. The Bulls are at least three wins adrift of the top four and that’s a big margin, even with twelve rounds to play.

And not least, University is not a team to take lightly this season. They may have just one win under their belt but four of their games have been against top five teams and the fifth was a resounding victory. Against an in-form Associates team last week Uni suffered from defensive lapses and lacked finish but they went well in the forwards, showed commendable spirit to compete tirelessly for the full eighty minutes and scored 23 points.

At Rosalie Park, a Wests-Subiaco team in development mode host second-placed Wanneroo at Rosalie Park, and may wear the backlash of the Roo-dogs’ ordinary effort against Nedlands last week that earned them their first defeat.

At Harvey Field, fifth-placed Cottesloe plays Nedlands in a WA derby with plenty of history combined with a contemporary twist. The much-improved Seagulls are in the unusual position of going into the game as favourites although Neddies may be running back into some form after their win over Wanneroo, and they’ll need it after a horror run early in the season.

And at Pat O’Hara Reserve, Perth-Bayswater must avoid going into cruise mode against Rockingham as they enjoy a mid-competition lull against the lower teams. The southern club are doing it tough this year but have surprised the men in black before, and will be desperate to restore credibility to their faded fortunes after showing so much promise in 2008.,55748.html