Big prop Tupou Leaaemanu has been strong with ball in hand and on defence for Carterton. PHOTOS/FILE
Seven teams remain in the Tui Cup semifinal race with two rounds to play. After getting all predictions wrong last week what teams will Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE put the kiss of death on?
Greytown v Carterton, Greytown 2.35pm [Alistair Payne].
There is plenty to play for in this clash between arguably the province’s fiercest rivals.
Both teams share the lead, along with East Coast on 17 points, and not only are important points up for grabs in the semifinal race, so are the Grant Cup and Toiora Cup, which are highly prized by the two clubs.
On top of that, depending on the result, the game could be the last premier game played on the Greytown ground, with the spectre of the ground’s sale hanging over the club.
Greytown have hit a mid-season slump and suffered consecutive losses to Marist and Eketahuna, and coach Mark Childs was aware of the importance of the game.
“We’ve had a bit of an attitude shift after the last two weeks, and we know we have to win, or we could miss out on the semifinals,” he said.
“With what’s going on with the South Wairarapa District Council and Greytown Trust Lands Trust and a possible sale, it could potentially be our last game there, and we’ve talked about that too.”
Injuries have hit the forward pack, with in-form prop Lewis Bush [concussion] the latest to be sidelined. Former Wairarapa-Bush representative Nicholas Hohepa will replace Bush for his first game of the season, after overcoming injuries.
Chris Senior, who played for Masterton Red Star before taking on the Carterton coaching role, was aware of the unique nature of the clash.
“It seems to be tribal warfare basically and there’s something special about it. In recent times it seems to bring the best out of Greytown, but it also brings the best out of the communities,” he said.
Carterton have lost imposing centre Denny Lauvi, who has joined Northern United in Wellington for the season, but should otherwise be at full strength.
One player who has been turning heads has been barnstorming Carterton prop Tupou Leaaemanu, who has impressed Senior with his work rate.
Senior expected the game to go to the wire and the team had talked about the importance of executing and taking their opportunities.
Too close to call. I’m tempted to get splinters in my bum and enjoy this as a neutral. But I have to pick a winner so will go for Greytown by the barest of margins.
East Coast v Eketahuna, Whareama, 2.35pm [Scott Andrew].
Eketahuna need two wins and hope that other results go their way to sneak into the semifinals and even then, could still miss out on the top four, their influential centre Robbie Anderson says.
“Doing a tally of the points, even if we get both wins we could still miss out but if we get two from two we should be there or thereabouts for a semifinal spot,” he said.
“It’s game by game and you don’t know who’s going to tip up who. In my four or five years of playing club rugby I know it’s the highest the level has been.”
Eketahuna have forged three consecutive wins over Marist, Pioneer, and Greytown despite injury problems.
Anderson said today would be the first game that they will have everyone back on deck except for [midfield back] Frankie Bryant.
First-five Nick Birchfield returns from a hamstring injury, and fullback Dave Hopper is back after missing the win over Greytown.
“It’s been a couple of tough weeks, but we’ve managed to get the wins when it matters the most. Getting those players back on board will bolster the team,” Anderson said.
Playing East Coast on their home ground was no ‘easy ask, but we’re confident we’ve got the players and the skillsets and the drive to do it”.
Another game I would love to sit on the fence. Home advantage is proving to be massive, and that might be the difference. If the Coasties can get parity with the Eke forwards, I will plump for them in a nailbiter.
Pioneer v Marist, Jeans St, 2.35pm [Pete Semmens].
Injured Marist tight-loose forward James Goodger doesn’t expect to be back on the field before the semifinals.
The Wairarapa-Bush and NZ Heartland XV representative suffered a rib injury in the 28-27 win over Greytown two weeks ago and says he’s still pretty tender.
Fellow forward Joe Beech is expected to return for today’s match after missing last Saturday’s 41-35 defeat of Martinborough with an Achilles strain.
Marist, on 16 points, will probably need two wins to be assured of a Tui Cup semifinal, while Pioneer are bottom of the table with one bonus point.
Goodger said a Pioneer-Marist clash was always ‘special’.
“I think we just love to hate each other, but there’s no way we’re going to take this lightly, as this is a must-win for us,” he said.
Goodger said Marist were hitting their straps at the right time, with two comeback victories over Greytown and Martinborough [41-35] in the past two weeks.
“That goes to show that the boys on the bench are not just there to make up a team – they’re there to do a job, and at the moment, we’ve got really good depth.”
Goodger also had praise for the backline.
“[First-five] Paddy Gluck is leading them around the field and taken over the goalkicking, and young Ala Malatai at halfback and [wing] Soli Malatai and they’re standing up and putting the opposition under pressure with Tafa Tafa who’s an outstanding fullback.”
The match will also be a special occasion for Pioneer coaches Nathan ‘Chopper’ Riwai-Couch, and Stan Wright, who both played for Marist and will coach against their old club for the first time.
Pioneer will stay in this for a long time, but Marist will have too much depth. Marist by 10 points plus.
Martinborough v Gladstone, Martinborough, 2.35pm [Shay O’Gorman].The winners will keep their Tui Cup semifinal prospects alive, while the losers will head to the Hodder-Steffert Cup.
Martinborough on 13 points, and Gladstone on 11, are three points and five points respectively behind fourth-placed Marist.
Defending champions Martinborough have been hit with several injuries in the forwards, forcing coach James Bruce to promote some players from the senior reserve side.
“We’re okay but we’re only probably just okay. We’ve brought a few players up from the reserves, and a couple of those guys have to have some big games,” Bruce said.
Martinborough’s greatest weapon is their exciting backline, and Bruce was confident they could pull the team through.
“The likes of [centre] Tristan Flutey, and [wings] Nathan Hunt and Charles Fisa, will make something out of nothing,” he said.
Despite Gladstone’s slow start to the season, which has seen them win only two of their five games, Bruce wasn’t writing off his old club.
“They will be a force to be reckoned with like they always are. They have the ability to lose all their scrums and all their lineouts and still win the game because they’re just that sort of team.”
“Teams like them and Pioneer are only one game away, and they’re due a good game.”
The last time these teams met was in the epic 2019 Tui Cup final and what a contrast from last year. An even forward battle, with the Martinborough backs to be the difference. Martinborough by less than 10 points.