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Coaches ponder strategy to tackle mud

Tolu Fahamokioa, scoring against Marist in the Lane Penn Trophy. A decision on his fitness will be made today. PHOTO/KYLIE EVANS

Top four bracing for mud wrestle
Up to 40mm of rain is forecast this morning, potentially turning the two club rugby semifinals into a lottery. CHRIS COGDALE looks at the prospects of the four teams chasing a place in the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup final.

Greytown v East Coast, Greytown, 2.35pm [Pete Semmens].

Past form goes out the window, and anything can happen in semifinals rugby.

That’s the message both coaches are stressing to their players entering an intriguing encounter at Greytown.

The home side have been the form team all season and come in with an unbeaten record.

However, the only team to have led Greytown at halftime has been East Coast, which Greytown eventually won 34-15.

“It’s a clean slate now, and what happened before means nothing,” Greytown coach Mark Childs said.

“It’s sudden death, and I keep reminding the players of that.”

Childs said they’re embracing the challenge in the same way as the ‘Town and Country’ Lane Penn Cup final that Greytown won 63-21 with an outstanding display of attacking rugby.

“We put the pressure on the players that week, and they performed. We’ve done similar this week and said this is your last chance and give it your all.”

Coasties coach Aaron Matenga is relishing the chance to take on the unbeaten championship favourites in the team’s first semifinal appearance in several seasons.

“Greytown are very well-coached, and their coaching staff will have a plan in place to get the win,” Matenga said, “but we are also hoping we will have a good plan to get the win. We’ll see what the weather does and how the man in the middle controls the game, and after 80 minutes, we should all know.”

Both teams have injury concerns, with Greytown captain Tavita Isaac definitely out, but former Tongan international prop Tolu Fahamokioa has made a remarkable recovery from what looked a serious calf injury. A decision on his fitness will be made on game day.

East Coast though, will miss as many as 11 regular first-team players, and Matenga said that had opened the door for other players to shine.

Despite their injury woes, the Coasties secured their semifinal place, coming from 16 points down to beat Martinborough last week. That has given the team’s confidence a boost.

“I think coming back from being well down in the first half gave the guys belief and trust and has given us ‘a spring in the step’ as they say.”

Childs is confident Greytown can make their second consecutive final but is wary of the dangerous Coasties.

“We pretty much know what they will throw at us, and we’ve done our intel on them, but we expect a brutal game, and the conditions could be terrible, so we’ve planned for that.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: It’s hard to go past Greytown. Unbeaten, with probably the best forward pack in the business. But they’re up against a Coast side that never say die. With predicted heavy conditions, it could come down to holds their nerve the best. The home side just.

Carterton v Gladstone, Carterton, 2.35pm [Alistair Payne].

Carterton’s Fiula Tameilau has been a constant threat to opposition defences. PHOTO/FILE

Carterton coach Neil Rodger predicts a cagey tactical battle between the two fierce rivals and is confident his team are in the right form to make their first final since 2018.

“We’re expecting a massive battle upfront. If the weather doesn’t play ball, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to, there will be a bit of a kicking for territory battle going on as well.”

Carterton are well-served in the kicking facets, with first-five Sam Morison and halfback Daryl Pickering two of the best in the province.

Rodger is also confident that the Maroons’ forwards can bring their best against the experienced Gladstone eight.

“We’ve got a decent pack, and I think a big part of their success has been our bench because we’ve got some decent guys, and that makes a difference.

“We have no doubt that they’ll throw everything at us that is humanly possible, and they’re a bloody hard team to beat – it doesn’t matter if they have 14 guys or 24 guys.”

Despite the likelihood of heavy conditions Rodger is still keen to use his talented outside backs. Outside backs Fiula Tameilau, Aseri Waqa, and Aisea Sakopo have been in outstanding form, while the wise head of Inia Katia brings experience and counterattacking skills at fullback.

“We’d be silly if we didn’t use them, and they’re skilful enough to get involved, even if it’s not on the end of the chain by coming in a bit closer, and they’re good even in small spaces.”

Gladstone coach Steve Thompson is counting the injury toll, with halfback Charlie Bargh the latest added to the list with a torn ligament in a finger.

He did welcome back veteran utility forward Andrew ‘Sass’ McLean for last weekend’s win over Eketahuna.

The wily coach was giving little away about his team’s prospects but expected a forward battle in the wet.

“We’ll take them on in the forwards, and if we can get some parity or get on top of them, then we’ll see how we go from there,” Thompson said.

“Hopefully, we can do that and not give them too much attacking ball for their backs. We’d also like to throw it around a bit, but on a wet day, it nullifies that a bit.”

Thompson said he’s confident of victory provided Gladstone play as well as they can do but said the team that’s shows determination and grit will be the deciding factor.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: There’s a lot to like about the steady progress shown by Carterton. Their forward pack is underrated, and their backs are outstanding. The forecast rain evens this up big time, and standing in their way are the wily Thompson and a gritty Gladstone side. Neither result would surprise, but Carterton in a close one.

HODDER-STEFFERT SEMIFINALS

The games that no teams really want to play.

Pioneer play winless Martinborough at Jeans St, and with heavy conditions likely, are favoured to record their first win at home since returning to the premier division.

Eketahuna host Marist and this will come down to who handles the mud the best. Toss a coin.

RYAN CUP SEMIFINALS

Tuhirangi are home to Puketoi and are favoured to progress to the Senior Reserve final.

In what is shaping as a close battle, Carterton play Masterton Red Star in the curtain-raiser at Carterton.

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