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Club season gets serious

The Martinborough trophy cabinet has been dusted, and the Lane Penn Cup has been locked away for another season. The points are now scrapped, and the competition heats up with the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Trophy the prize at the end. CHRIS COGDALE reviews the first half of the Wairarapa Bush club season and looks ahead to the championship.
RUGBY

Martinborough

The “Green and Blacks” win over Carterton on the opening day was all that separated the pair after seven rounds.

Despite an ever-increasing injury list that included five front rowers, the biggest losses being Wai Bush prop Ty Waight, midfield playmaker Harry Eschenbach, and exciting outside back Shane Colton, Martinborough found a way to win. There was enough experience in the likes of veteran utility back Tipene Haira, flanker Ryan Knell, and No. 8 Cody Cunningham, who provided a damaging impact off the bench to get over the line. Their only loss was a 33-point drubbing by Marist.

Martinborough is in the same position as last year, but coach James Bruce won’t want a repeat of 2023 when they missed the championship semifinals. At full strength, the southerners would avoid that, but any more additions to the casualty ward could sink their season.

Carterton

The two-time defending “Moose Kapene” champions are hitting form at the right time. They have passed the half-century mark in the last three games, with the other being a win by default. Their two losses came against Martinborough and away to Eketāhuna, but their attacking prowess ensured they picked up nine bonus points.

The big wins, including a 50–10 pasting of fierce rivals Greytown, will reinforce that Carterton is again the team to beat when the going gets serious.

With a solid, hardworking forward pack, soon to be boosted with the return of Wai Bush utility forward Logan Wakefield, an exciting backline with attacking threats such as Aseri ‘Ace’ Waqa, Fiula Tameilau, and Billy Leberi, the “Maroons” will be hard to roll. Even more so, with reinforcements from Fiji expected to add more depth to an already strong outfit.

Carterton will start as hot favourites to complete the three-peat, but how the coaches manage the transition of the new faces into an already settled squad could have a big bearing on their prospects.

Marist

After stuttering through the first few rounds, Marist hit their straps with convincing wins over Martinborough, Eketāhuna, and Masterton Red Star and finished third.

There is plenty to like about the “Green and Whites”, who possess arguably the biggest forward pack in the comp. Representative front-rowers Stan Wright Jnr and Sam Siaosi, and former Cook Island international Stan Wright Snr, who, at 45, still provides useful impact, and utility forward Tom Campbell give the pack a solid base. Veteran lock Peter Beech is expected to return for the rest of the season, adding even more experience.

Outside back Hayden Cooper has been one of the stars of the opening seven rounds, and along with Wai Bush centre Charles Mataitai, playmaker Tafa Tafa, and inspirational halfback Paddy Gluck, give Marist an attacking edge over most opposition.

Marist often flatter to deceive, but there is the experience and talent to be fighting for the spoils at the pointy end.

Greytown

Fourth place, with three wins, three losses and a draw, won’t concern Greytown, who will be targeting bigger fish at the end of July.

Much of their success came through their experienced core of players, led by mercurial 43-year-old flanker Tana Isaac, veteran first-five Nick Olson and midfielder Cyrus Baker, while among the new faces, none have been more impressive than hooker Conley Alexander in his first year out of Wairarapa College. Indications are that, like Carterton, reinforcements are on the way.

Year after year, New Zealand’s second-oldest rugby club find a way to get to the big dance. With their experienced and determined group of players who know how to win and an astute coaching lineup, including two-time championship-winning Wai Bush coach Peter Russell, don’t be surprised if they are there when the chocolates are handed out.

Eketāhuna

Breaking a nearly two-year losing drought with a win over Pioneer gave Eketāhuna the confidence to forge further victories, and they came out on top in games over Carterton and Masterton Red Star, before reality checks against Marist and Martinborough.

The latter exposed their lack of depth in the forwards, although their cause wasn’t helped by the sending off of flanker Sekove Finanu [two yellow cards], leaving Eke to play 30 minutes with only 14.

Tough as teak loose forwards Sam Gammie and BJ Campbell were again to the fore, although there were also useful contributions from hooker Dezharne Malsen-Smith, and a trio of speedy Fijians Leiskoro Ilisea, Etunia Nainima, and Nacanieli Buadromo.

Whether Eke have the depth to be a serious threat is doubtful, and making the top four could be the best they could hope for. Pioneer

Inconsistency has again been the bugbear for Pioneer.

Too often, the Jeans Street boys have drifted in and out of games. At times, they have been imperious, but at others, errors and poor discipline have crept in, leading to defeat.

There is talent in one of the union’s best loose forwards, Himiona Haira, the attacking nous of outside back Nikora Ewe and the controlled play of Reece Calkin at first-five or fullback, but the team have failed to fire overall. The only wins wre against Masterton Red Star and East Coast, although a draw with Greytown in the final round could be a confidence booster.

On form from the Lane Penn Cup, it’s hard to see Pioneer seriously challenging.

East Coast

Injuries significantly impacted the Coasties, with coach Guy Williams routinely tearing his hair out in trying to field a full squad for Saturday afternoon.

Their two wins came in the opening two weeks over Eketāhuna [12–10] and Masterton Red Star [18-17], and most of the remaining matches, bar a heavy loss to Greytown, the Coasties were, in typical fashion, a tough nut to crack.

Although flanker Matt Perry, first-five Jack Wakeling, versatile back Bryan Arnold and Epeli Rayaqayaqa add a touch of class, a lack of depth appears to be a big problem at Whareama.

The Coasties will never throw in the towel, but that won’t be enough.

Masterton Red Star

Although not picking up the club’s first premier win in more than 11 years, there will be a degree of satisfaction among the new boys to the premier championship.

Potentially, the Stars could have picked wins over East Coast, Eketāhuna, Pioneer, and Martinborough, but their lack of experience, poor options, and nerves at crucial times proved their downfall.

Coach Chris Senior should be happy with the team’s progress, and with players such as hooker Caedman Hawkins and No. 8 Tama Bartlett, there is promise for the future.

Picking up a win or maybe two in the second round would be a success. The decisive factor, though, is whether they have the calmness to close out games.

East Coast vs Eketahuna

Whareama 2.35pm
[Alistair Payne]

The Coasties will be rested after having last weekend off, but Eketāhuna might just sneak this.

Carterton vs Martinborough

Carterton 2.35pm
[Shay O’Gorman]

This is the game of the round, and at their fortress, it is hard to see Carterton beaten, and it could be comfortable.

Pioneer vs Marist

Jeans Street 2.35pm
[Kaleb Rowlands]

Little love is lost between these two, but Marist should be too good even on Pioneer’s home patch.

Greytown vs
Masterton Red Star

Greytown 2.35pm
[Chris Jefferies]

Greytown put a half-century on Stars in week one, and a similar scoreline would not surprise.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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