Gladstone No 8 Joe Tako … potential matchwinner. PHOTO/FILE
Final could be best for a long time
TUI CUP FINAL
Gladstone v Martinborough
Memorial Park 1, today, 3.15pm
Where the hell do you start to preview today’s Tui Cup final?
Two teams in top form, peaking at the right time of the season, both laced with x-factor players who can change the course of a game in a flash.
But before we get to the glory boys out the back, let’s start where all the hard work begins up front.
The Martinborough eight may not have any big names, but they just go about their business in a workmanlike manner.
A solid scrum, based on a no-nonsense front row of underrated props Jono Hartnell and Tawera Brown, with Wairarapa-Bush hooker James Pakoti; a consistent supply of lineout ball from locks Toby Rowlands and George Bunnett, terriers at the breakdown in loosies, openside Stan Rhind, blindside Nathan Kapene and highly rated No 8 Logan Flutey.
They were very impressive in repelling a strong Greytown outfit in last Saturday’s semifinal.
The Gladstone forward pack have struggled occasionally at scrum time, but there’s simply so much class among them that they make up for their shortfalls in other areas of the game.
The likes of veterans – lock Andrew McLean and prop Richard Puddy, uncompromising flankers Ryan Knell and Eddie Cranston – know all about the finer aspects of the dark side of forward play. Then, throw in big Fijian No 8 Joe Tako as a potential matchwinner.
Of course, there are the unsung heroes such as hooker Scott Day and his front row mate Zac Chandler, lock Sean Nixon, who works in Christchurch and travels up for the games and is in for the unavailable Andrew Smith.
In the backs, Martinborough’s Chance Ropiha, rated by coach James Bruce as the best halfback in the province, comes up against the mercurial Fijian, Inia Katia, who can change the direction of a match with the flick of a switch.
Experienced Martinborough first-five Tim Priest is up against relative greenhorn in Tim Griffith.
The midfield look an even contest between Nikora Ewe and in-form Tipene Haira for Martinborough and Jock Cameron and the ever-reliable Cameron Hayton for Gladstone.
Out wide, both teams have outstanding finishers.
Wingers Nathan Hunt and Tristan Flutey have been outstanding for Martinborough, with Alex Priest, arguably one of the club players of the year, adding counter-attacking brilliance from fullback.
Gladstone don’t lack their own match-winners in the back three.
Wingers Logan Prendeville-Heberton and Dylan Lord-Bune, and fullback harry Eschenbach are all youngsters with a good turn of speed and the footwork to beat defenders.
Gladstone have experience to lean on — many of their players are gunning for their third, fourth, or fifth titles.
They know how to win when it really matters. No matter the score or how long there is to play, one can never count them out.
Martinborough have the experience of a losing final in 2017 and that goes a long way.
Today’s match has the potential to be the best final for several years. Too many of the recent deciders have been drab or one-sided affairs.
Gladstone know how to win the big games, but Martinborough have already beat them twice in the regular season and were the only team to beat Gladstone in 2017.
In the end though, that means nothing – it’s all about the team that turns up on the day.
Two good teams in good form coached by two of the best blokes you’d ever meet.
There are so many great little stories that can emerge from this game – Gladstone’s hat-trick of victories would almost confirm Thompson’s right to sainthood for anywhere east of Carterton and, of course, Martinborough’s quest for their first championship since 1991, a mere 28 years ago.
So, I’m going to get splinters in the bum and as a neutral sit down and enjoy what I reckon will be one hell of a game.
Rest of the finals
The Senior Reserve Ryan Cup will be contested between Tuhirangi and Greytown.
Tuhirangi beat Greytown 17-10 and 19-8 in the regular season. The inclusion of regular Greytown premier No 8 Tavita Isaac is a potential game changer.
Isaac makes a big difference. Greytown by less than 10 points.
Carterton and East Coast will meet in the Hodder-Steffert Cup. Carterton easily won 32-15 and 41-5 in the regular season but come into the game having played only one match in the past three weeks.
Carterton are better than what they’ve shown. By 10 to 20 points.
The President’s Cup Senior Reserve Plate final between Eketahuna and Martinborough should be closely fought.
Gladstone and Featherston will play for the WB Trophy. Each team won one of the two fixtures between them.