Shannon Rimene on charge for Marist, who are desperate for a win to keep their season alive. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
The race for Tui Cup semifinal places has hit the home straight. Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE previews today’s premier club rugby matches.
The Tui Cup semifinalists could well be decided after today’s round.
Martinborough [26 points] are safely assured of a semifinal spot.
Gladstone  and Greytown 31] are pretty much secure, bar a major collapse.
With three rounds to go, Eketahuna  are most at risk being just 10 points clear of Marist .
Carterton are still mathematically a chance. But the Maroons have just the two games remaining – against Martinborough and Eketahuna.
They would need several other results to go their way to make the top four.
Greytown v Marist, Greytown, 2.35pm. [Referee: Alistair Payne]
Must-win time for Marist. A loss and the green and whites can almost kiss goodbye to their semifinals ambitions.
Marist won their first-round encounter 25-17 with a fierce defensive display to end Greytown’s unbeaten start to the season.
Marist’s attacking potential was on show in the second half of their 46-18 demolition of East Coast last Saturday when they came back from a halftime deficit to score 32 unanswered points.
The big question for Marist is: Can they back it up again?
They have the talent, but do they have the mental toughness?
After a mid-season stutter, in which they lost three out of four games, Greytown have also found form with wins over Martinborough and fierce rivals, Carterton.
Greytown know how to get up in these sorts of games. They will want to confirm their semifinals spot and then go about getting home advantage.
Marist are desperate and a win would be good for the competition — but Greytown at home are difficult propositions.
Greytown by a narrow margin.
Gladstone v Eketahuna, Gladstone, 2.35pm. [Ryan Hardman]
There’s plenty hanging on this game.
A Gladstone win will take them a step closer to a home semifinal and keep Eketahuna in sight of the chasing pack. An Eketahuna win would move them closer to safety in pursuit of the top four.
The first-round fixture went the way of Eketahuna 13-0, a result that gave the northern club the momentum to go on and win the Moose Kapene Cup for the first-round championship.
However, two straight losses to Marist, and Martinborough, have seen them slip to fourth place.
Long-term injuries to inspirational captain and centre Robbie Anderson and try-scoring fullback Vaifagaloa Mamoe, and the absence of powerhouse loose forward Johan van Vliet have had significant impact on Eketahuna.
Van Vliet is expected back for this fixture.
Gladstone will be hurting after losing a 25-27 thriller to Martinborough last Saturday — their first home loss in more than three years [May 6, 2016] when they went down 10-12 to Eketahuna.
The Gladstone scrum struggled against Martinborough and they won’t find it any easier against an Eketahuna eight who have had the better of most opposition.
The home team should win their fair share of possession and with the likes of Inia Katia, no matter where he plays, in-form centre Cameron Hayton, and exciting young winger Logan Prendeville-Heberton, have plenty of try-scoring potential.
Gladstone to win and pile the pressure on Eketahuna.
Martinborough v Carterton, Martinborough, 2.35pm. [Chris Jefferies]
Martinborough coach James Bruce was thrilled with the stickability shown by his team last Saturday, coming from 17-25 down in the last 15 minutes, to win with an injury-time converted try over Gladstone.
After a slow start to the season, in which they lost two of their first three games, Martinborough have been the form team with their only loss being a 13-15 defeat to Greytown.
Their workmanlike forward pack have held their own against most opposition and their backline with speedy wingers Nathan Hunt and Reece Calkin, and fullback Alex Priest know their way to the tryline.
With only two games to play, Martinborough need the win to stay on course for a home semifinal.
Carterton still hold a slim mathematical chance of making the top four but the reality is that they will be playing for pride.
Last year’s beaten finalists have never really hit their straps this season. It’s hard to see them getting up against a confident and in-form home team.
Martinborough to come away with a bonus-point win.