Marist [green and white] have arguably the easiest run into the semifinals. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Seven teams remain in contention to make the Tui Cup semifinals with two rounds to play and only six points separating the teams. So who will make the cut?
The way the draw has worked has seen Marist, Martinborough, Pioneer and Gladstone linked together, with Greytown, East Coast, Carterton, and Eketahuna in the other “grouping”.
The only certainty is that Pioneer cannot make the top four playoffs and will have to make do with a place in the Hodder-Steffert Cup, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be spoilers.
The blue and reds have slowly improved and have a home fixture against one of their fiercest rivals, Marist, and are away to Martinborough. But I doubt whether they’re good enough to beat either team.
On the surface, Marist on 16 points and Martinborough 13 points have comfortable runs home both having games against the bottom two teams – Gladstone and Pioneer.
Marist play Gladstone and Pioneer away, and have shown good enough form to come away with victories.
Martinborough also tackle Gladstone at home, followed by Pioneer away.
The southerners have probably the best backline in the competition and have the ability to put plenty of points on opposition teams.
Getting enough quality ball through their smallish forward pack, which was exposed by Marist in their 35-41 loss last Saturday, might be their biggest problem. They should still secure two bonus-point wins though.
Gladstone have a slim chance but must gain two bonus-point victories and hope other results go their way.
One never counts out Gladdy when it comes to the crunch time of the season, but they have more than likely left their run too late.
The other side of the draw has Greytown, East Coast, and Carterton locked together on 17 points, with Eketahuna lurking on 13 points.
Eketahuna face the toughest challenge away to East Coast and then at Carterton, and would need two wins and other results to go their way.
Eke have the forward pack to ensure a steady supply of possession but are likely to struggle to match the other sides in the backs.
Greytown are at home to fierce rivals Carterton and finish at East Coast, and have probably the toughest draw of any of the leading teams.
Injuries in the forwards are starting to hit the squad hard, but there’s plenty of experience at finals’ time to see the team through. Will that be enough, though?Carterton have been the surprise package and have flown under the radar until now.
A steady if unspectacular forward pack and with a backline that has been scoring a few tries, the maroons are well-placed.
If they can bag a win at Greytown on Saturday, they could grab a home semifinal with a win over Eketahuna in their last game.
East Coast arguably have the best draw of the leading teams, at home to Eketahuna and Greytown to wrap up the round-robin.
With more depth than in past seasons, the Coasties are proving a real handful and finishing with two home games is a massive advantage.
The only certainty about the final two rounds is the uncertainty that has prevailed throughout this enthralling competition, and nothing would surprise me.
Top four predictions: Marist, East Coast, Martinborough, and Carterton
Moose Kapene Cup standings:
Greytown 17 points, East Coast 17, Carterton 17; Marist 16*; Eketahuna 14; Martinborough 13, Gladstone 11;
* Marist deducted three points for a team sheet breach in the first round.