Martinborough‘s Tristan Flutey. PHOTO/FILE
Passions are sure to be high for the second of the Tui Cup semi-finals today. Times-Age sportswriter Chris Cogdale previews the southern derby between Martinborough and Greytown.
Martinborough v Greytown, Martinborough, 2.35pm. [Referee: Rebecca Mahoney]
Martinborough and Greytown are each confident they will be the ones playing next weekend’s final after today’s semifinal at Martinborough.
Both teams have been in good form in the second round of the Tui Cup.
Martinborough have dropped only the one game, to Greytown, while Greytown have lost two games, to the other semifinalists, Eketahuna and Gladstone.
Martinborough boast the second-best attack in the competition behind Gladstone, averaging 28 points a game and Greytown have the best defence, conceding only 16 points a game.
The previous encounters this season between the two sides have been low-scoring affairs, with Greytown scoring late tries to win both matches, the first 15-8 and the second 15-13.
For Martinborough coach James Bruce, Greytown are the ideal opponents.
“We were missing about four or five players last time we played them, so the boys are keen to play Greytown.
“We haven’t beaten them this year and we want to take on that challenge; it means a lot to the guys.”
After a slow start to the season, Martinborough, who last won the cup in 1991, have been the steady improvers.
They have a solid forward pack who may not be the biggest but are very combative and efficient.
The loss of standout blindside flanker Himiona Haira with a broken ankle suffered in the win over Marist is a big blow though.
The backline is no doubt Martinborough’s strength.
With veteran Tim Priest directing play at first-five, a solid midfield in Nikora Ewe and the impressive Tipi Haira, and exciting finishers in fullback Alex Priest and wingers Nathan Hunt and Tristan Flutey, the home team boast probably the best attacking unit in the province.
Bruce is in no doubt where the visitors’ strengths are.
“Greytown are strong defensively, they play a really rush ‘D’, it’s good but if there’s a miss it can be bad, so we have to take our chances.”
“I’m backing us, I’m not real confident but feeling pretty good. I’m confident we can do it; we’re getting better every week at what we’re doing” Bruce said.
Greytown coach Eli Telford was sweating on training last night to see which players with niggling injuries pull through training.
Like Martinborough, Greytown, champions in 2016, don’t boast the biggest forward pack but one that rarely take a backward step.
Experienced brothers No 8 Tevita Isaac and blindside flanker Tana Isaac [in doubt with a niggling injury] provide much of their go-forward in the loose and are expert at forcing turnovers at the breakdown.
The backline also features several matchwinners in wingers Moo Moo Falaniko and Taylor Fenwick and the strong-running midfielder Teihana Brown.
The promising Raniera Peterson has been a steadying influence at first-five, while evergreen Nick Olson adds loads of finals experience, whether he plays at his customary fullback role or at halfback where he has filled in admirably at times throughout the season.
The Achilles heel for Greytown could be goalkicking. Regular kicker Falaniko tends to run hot or cold. On his good days he’s very good and his bad days are very bad.
Telford says whoever wins will come down to the team who turns up with the best attitude.
“The boys are pumped. We’ve achieved what we wanted to and made the semifinals; it’s now knockout rugby and we’re here and we’ll turn up with the right attitude.”
Telford said the experience of players who played in teams who won four championships from 2012-2016 and in losing semifinals would be vital for the team.
“We lost in the semifinals the past two years and we’ll be leaning on those fellas a lot.
“We’re very confident, we haven’t lost to Martinborough this year.”
Marty have been the big improvers and are peaking at the right time, but they come up against a Greytown side with a never say die attitude. I like the way Martinborough have progressed so will pick them to make their second final in three years [last time in 2017].
Marist will host East Coast for the right to play Carterton in the final next Saturday.
The teams have shared their two previous matches this season, and both come in on the back of disappointing form having suffered recent big losses.
For the sake of picking a winner, I’ll go for the Coasties in a minor upset.