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All on the line in semifinal race

Lock Logan Wakefield, with ball, has been one of the unsung heroes in a hardworking Carterton forward pack. PHOTO/FILE

Six into three doesn’t go, so who is going to miss out in the race for the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup semifinals? CHRIS COGDALE previews today’s final round of games.

RUGBY

Marist v Carterton Memorial Park No 2 2.35pm [Pete Semmens]

Marist captain Peter Beech is treating the do-or-die clash as a virtual quarterfinal.

There are plenty of variables with both teams able to make the semifinals even with a loss, depending on results from other games.

Regardless, Beech wants to put those scenarios out of reach with a victory with a bonus point for scoring four tries.

Marist come into the game on the back of a gutsy 27-27 draw with East Coast, and Beech said that despite not winning that game at Whareama, the team have taken a lot of confidence from it.

“It was probably one of our better full game performances, and the little things that had let us down in the past we had improved on,” he said.

“There’s still a bit to improve on, but just the way we kept playing through all the ups and downs we showed a lot of resolve we need going forward into knockout rugby.”

Carterton won their Town and Country encounter 27-7 after leading 27-0 at halftime, but Beech said the defending champions have improved significantly since that game in May.

“We’ve got better every week, and the guys are getting fitter and fitter, so I think we’re kind of peaking at the right time.

“The boys know how to win, they’ve been there before, and there’s the expectation there that they want to be in the top four, and we’re trying to go in there with that mindset.”

Beech is confident but said they must be clinical with the ball and not kick to Carterton’s dangerous outside backs or give them space to run.

Carterton coach Neil Rodger is in the fortunate position of fielding the same team that put Pioneer to the sword last week, in a 43-5 victory, with Fijian playmaker Inia Katia over a hamstring tweak that saw him leave the field in the dying minutes.

Carterton have hit their straps with four wins on the trot, and Rodger said the team is getting better every week.

“If we can go up another step this weekend, we should be able to put them away, and it helps when you can play the same team,” he said.

“We’re certainly confident with how we’ve been playing in the last probably four weeks.”

Rodger is aware of the danger posed by the powerful Marist forward pack, especially at the set-piece, and is confident his eight will step up. He also said the benches will play a big part in the outcome.

“In tight games as well, we rely heavily on our bench, so we’re very lucky in that regard, so we’ll be looking for our bench to bring some impact as well.”

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Carterton have been in top form and deserve to start favourites, but discount Marist at your own peril. Either team could also make the top four with a loss with one or two bonus points. The Maroons narrowly in an open, high-scoring game.

Gladstone v Eketahuna Gladstone 2.35pm [Alistair Payne]

The battle of the walking wounded, with the injury crises in both teams worsening by the week.

Gladstone lost fullback Harry Eschenbach [concussion], lock Andrew Smith [knee], hooker Ryan Wilson [calf], and utility forward Cameron Dallas [hip], while veteran lock Andrew McLean is battling a long-term hamstring injury.

Eketahuna are no better off, with loosie BJ Campbell [dislocated shoulder], hooker Josh Fulton [broken ribs], and prop Dan Neale [medial ligament] joining the lengthy injury list.

There is good news with impressive outside back Matt Raleigh fully recovered, and former Dutch international Johan van Vliet mostly over a quad injury, although Eketahuna co-captain Robbie Anderson said the devastating flanker is only operating at about 70 per cent.

Anderson said they will only have 16 players but is confident that they can get the win and secure a place in the semifinals.

“Our backs are at full strength, and we fired last week, and if the forwards, even though they’re depleted, can get us any sort of ball and some parity at set-piece, we will just look to throw it around,” he said.

“Looking at the teams, our backs are far better on paper, so the plan is to throw it around and play at a really high tempo.”

Gladstone’s veteran coach Steve Thompson was typically cagey about the game plan he will adopt, but it will likely centre on keeping it tight in the forwards and starving Eketahuna of possession.

He is hopeful though of being able to strengthen the squad with players from the club’s senior reserves side, who are playing the curtain-raiser at Gladstone.

“I don’t know how it’s going to pan out, and we’ll just have to see on the day,” said the understated Thompson.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Which team can patch up the walking wound the best? Given that their exciting backline is pretty much intact, Eketahuna in a bonus-point victory.

Pioneer v Greytown Jeans Street 2.35pm [Kaleb Rowlands]

Greytown captain Tavita Isaac, with ball, is out with a groin injury.

Greytown coach Mark Childs is eyeing up an unbeaten season, and he said it could be the first time the club achieves the feat.

“We talked about that during the week, and we know it hasn’t been done in Greytown over the last 50 years, and we don’t think it has ever been done at Greytown,” he said.

The club won four titles in five seasons from 2012-16, but none were unbeaten. Childs thinks the last team to record an unbeaten season was Eketahuna in their three-year run of championships from 2003-5, while Masterton Red Star were unbeaten in the 2000 season.

With the chance of making history, Childs said there is no consideration of resting key players for the encounter with a desperate Pioneer, who will probably need to upset the competition favourites to make the top four.

“It’s a very important game because we don’t want to lose momentum or let our standards slip, and we know Pioneer have got nothing to lose, and it’s their old-timers’ day.”

Captain and loose forward Tavita Isaac is out with groin injury, which could also keep him out of the semifinal.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Pioneer will come out firing on their home patch, but Greytown should weather the storm and walk away with a bonus point victory.

Martinborough v East Coast Martinborough 2.35pm [Matt Perry]

Finishing fifth by winning the Hodder-Steffert Caup is the target for Martinborough coach James Bruce.

The 2019 champions have had a wretched season, wracked by injury, and have yet to register a victory in the ‘Moose’ Kapene Cup.

Bruce said that despite the poor results spirit is still high and they’re getting good numbers at training, and there were more than 20 guys helping out with a dagging fundraiser during the week.

Centre Tristan Flutey, winger Shane Coulton, and lock George Bunnett are Martinborough’s main losses, and Bruce hopes they will be ready for the playoffs.

He said they will have some senior reserve players available, which will be a big help for the winless side.

East Coast have also had injury concerns, and Bruce predicted “a good, fun game” in the final home fixture for Martinborough.

The Coasties must win and rely on other results go their way to stay alive in the championship.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Martinborough would love to finish on a high, but they might focus more on getting everyone back for next weekend’s bottom- four playoffs. For that reason, East Coast to take the points, with a bonus point. But don’t be surprised if it goes the other way.

SENIOR RESERVES

The top two qualifiers, Tuhirangi and Carterton, get the weekend off while the third to sixth-placed teams fight for the other two places in the semifinals.

Masterton Red Star play Marist at Colombo Rd at 2.30pm, with the winner to play Carterton for a place in the final, while the winner of the Puketoi-Greytown game will meet Tuhirangi in the semifinals.

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