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Battle for Penn Trophy final begins

Paddy Gluck, centre, was instrumental in Marist’s 2020 grand final victory over Greytown.  PHOTOS/FILE

Greytown hit by injuries in key spots
Martinborough and Memorial Park will host the key games to decide the finalists for the Lane Penn Trophy. Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE previews the last round of matches in the Town and Country series.

Martinborough v Eketahuna, Martinborough, 2.35pm [Chris Jefferies]

The teams come into the ‘Country final’ with unbeaten records, with the winner progressing to the first Lane Penn Trophy final.

Martinborough have been the more impressive of the two in their games with East Coast and Gladstone, scoring bonus-point victories, while Eketahuna have done enough to win their games.

The key to an Eketahuna victory for co-captain Robbie Anderson was keeping possession and denying the dangerous Martinborough backline sufficient ball.

“Holding on to the ball for more than about three phases, because that’s what we’ve been struggling to do, and if we can do it for long periods, I think we’ve got enough firepower within the forwards and the backs,” he said.

“It’s a good test for our backline too because we haven’t really been tested this season. I think our backline is the most talented it’s been since we last won the championship [in 2014].”

Anderson is hoping for an open game if the weather permits.

“We expect them to run it from everywhere, play with a wide tempo and attack from all parts of the world.

Hopefully, the weather holds out, although the forecast isn’t great. We’re pretty keen to throw the ball around and give it a crack too.”

Eketahuna won’t be lacking motivation to be the first winners of the trophy as the team is managed by Steve Penn, the son of the late Wai-Bush coach and All Black selector.

Halfback Jeremy Anderson returns after missing the win over East Coast, while former Manawatu Turbos Frankie Bryant has recovered from injury and is expected to start on the bench.

Loose forward Chris Renwick is missing because of work.

Sam Gammie has been dynamic for Eketahuna in their opening two matches.

Martinborough coach James Bruce expects his team to be tested at the breakdown where Eketahuna are likely to have the advantage through their rugged loose forward trio of Johan van Vliet, BJ Campbell, and Sam Gammie.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: If Martinborough’s backline can get a fair share of possession, they can tear apart any team in the province, but they face a tough Eke side who never take a backward step. A close, high-scoring encounter. Toss a coin – but Martinborough just.

Marist v Greytown, Memorial Park No 2, 2.35pm [Shay O’Gorman]

Greytown are in pole position and only need a bonus point to progress to the Lane Penn Trophy final. Marist must score a bonus-point victory and deny Greytown a bonus point to make the decider.

Greytown’s chances haven’t been helped with a raft of injuries which will stretch the squad’s depth.

Chris Hemi, on the charge against Carterton, is out of the Marist game with a shoulder injury.

Prop/No 8 Chris Hemi [shoulder], hooker Lance Buchanan [hamstring], prop Nick Hohepa [bicep], flanker Chaz Matthews [leg injury], and lock Don Herlihy [concussion] are out of today’s clash and prop Lewis Bush and veteran first-five Kingi Kaiwai have niggling injuries.

“We’ve had a squad of 24 or 25, and we’re down to 19, but we can call on the senior reserves, and there’s good club spirit,” coach Mark Childs said.

“Looking at our injury count, they would have to go in as favourites. Our backs are against the wall so it’s a real test of character for us,. I know that they’ve heard about injuries and are cock-a-hoop about it all, so we’ve really just got to dig deep.”

Childs said despite the long injury list, the team’s confidence was high after two big wins over Pioneer and Carterton.

Both wins came through Greytown’s forward dominance at set pieces and the breakdowns, denying the opposition the ball for long periods.

Marist started the competition with a 7-27 loss to Carterton, followed by a bonus point 34-15 win over Pioneer.

Captain Peter Beech said they need to improve even more to match Greytown.

“We’ve built nicely the past couple of weeks, and it will be good to get in and have another crack at them.

“We had some really good games with them last year, so it’s always going to be a bit of a spectacle against those guys.”

Beech expected a particularly feisty encounter at scrum time, between two strong front rows.

“They’re very strong, but we have Stan Wright, Jeremiah Mapasua and Eden Smith, very good players in their own right, so it’s going to be a very good battle. I’m probably going to have to do some pushing.”

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: The Greytown injury count puts a different perspective on the game, but they still front with a very good side. Marist should gain parity in possession, and for me, their underrated first-five Paddy Gluck will be key to their fortunes. I will still go Greytown narrowly.

Gladstone v East Coast, Gladstone, 2.35pm [Kaleb Rowlands]

It will be interesting to see what attitude both teams take into this game, with neither in the running for the trophy final.

There’s only pride on the line, so will coaches treat it as a final preseason hit-out before the championship proper starts next weekend, or will they look at it as a chance to get bragging rights over their country cousins?

With the potential of needless long-term injuries, a cautious approach is probable, and key players are likely to spend plenty of minutes on the pine.

Both teams are winless after losses to Eketahuna and Martinborough.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: For the sake of picking a winner – East Coast in a low-scoring match.

Pioneer v Carterton, Jeans St, 2.35pm [Alistair Payne]

Just like the game at Gladstone, little is riding on the outcome .

Carterton showed what they can do when they get a decent amount of possession, scoring two tries in the last 10 minutes against Greytown, but the horse had already bolted, and they were well-beaten.

That was a complete turnaround from the first week when they had put on 27 unanswered points in the first half against Marist but failed to trouble the scorer in the second half.

Pioneer have shown enough in their first two outings that a win is not far away. They should enjoy more possession than either of those games and will have the benefit of a vociferous home crowd.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Carterton’s talented backline should provide the edge in a high scoring entertaining clash.

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