Former Manawatu Turbos midfielder Frankie Bryant, centre, is a great acquisition for Eketahuna. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Don’t write the champs off
With the round-robin phase of the Town and Country completed, it’s time for CHRIS COGDALE to assess the teams’ performances and their prospects for the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Cup.
Unbeaten with three bonus-point victories, Greytown were the only team I saw twice in the three rounds of the Lane Penn Trophy.
One word – clinical – sums up their performances in those wins over Pioneer and Carterton. A severely weakened side, wracked by injury, then backed that up with a commanding victory against 2020 champions Marist to complete the clean sweep.
The forwards set the platform for all three wins, dominating the scrums, where they regularly had the opposition back pedalling.
In general play, props Lewis Bush and Tolu Fahamokioa, and underrated lock Dominic Herlihy have been powerful runners with the ball along with loosies Tavita Isaac, Rihi Brown, and converted prop Chris Hemi.
The forwards are complemented by a more-than-useful backline. Former All Black Zac Guildford is pulling the strings in midfield, and the dangerous fullback Moomoo Falaniko is in solid early-season form.
With an astute coaching staff led by second-year head coach Mark Childs, with support from former Wai-Buh coach Paul Pottinger, Greytown have the right ingredients to go the whole way.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Will be there when dishing out the end-of-season chocolates.
A few weeks ago, there were questions about whether Wai-Bush’s northernmost premier club would field a competitive side.
Those fears have well and truly been put to rest with three wins, culminating in their 42-24 demolition of Martinborough last Saturday.
Their tight five will face sterner challenges in the setpieces than Martinborough, but they should hold their own against most sides.
It’s in the loose though where Eke have been brutal, with their Wai-Bush loose forward trio of Johan van Vliet, BJ Campbell, and Sam Gammie in rampaging form, forcing numerous turnovers and getting the go-forward for their talented backline to thrive off.
The acquisition of Frankie Bryant [80 games for Manawatu] is a shrewd move, and he should form a potent midfield combination with Robbie Anderson, and ex-Poverty Bay rep Matt Raleigh showed his pace with a hat-trick last weekend and thrived when moved to fullback.
First-year coach Craig Pepperell is assisted by former Wai-Bush hooker and coach Graham Cheetham.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: The best loose forward trio and their best backline for many years mean they will be a major threat. Finalists?
Can the forwards get enough ball to set their outstanding backline alight? That will be the big question for Carterton.
In the loss to Greytown, they were denied possession for long periods, and it was only in the last quarter that the Carterton outsides got their chance to display their wares, and then there was plenty of island flair on display.
With Fijian magician Inia Katia at second-five and excitement machines Aisea Sakopo at centre, and Aseri Waqa at fullback, there is the potential to tear any defence apart.
The forward pack isn’t short of talent with Wai-Bush hooker Terongo Tekii and prop Tupou Lea’aemanu, who has been packing down at No 8.
If they can get more possession against the better teams, they will be a threat.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Vying for the top four – and they have the potential to get there.
Like Carterton, will their outstanding backline get sufficient ball to cut loose?
The Green and Blacks showed against Eketahuna that with try-scoring machines Nathan Hunt, Alex Priest, and Tristan Flutey out wide, they have devastating finishers, and in the astute Tipene Haira at first-five they have one of the best playmakers in the province.
Martinborough were badly outplayed by Eketahuna at the breakdown, but they won’t be the only team to suffer that fate.
There is the talent in the forwards with Jake Goodger at openside, promising hooker Ty Waight, and evergreen prop Dylan Higgison showing good early season form. But the lack of size in the tight five must be a concern for coach James Bruce.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Another team that should be in the hunt for a top-four finish.
The defending champions have lost a lot of players from last season and have started with uncomfortable losses to Carterton and Greytown, with a win over Pioneer sandwiched between.
It’s hard to know how Marist approached the Town and Country contest. Some say they were treating it as preseason, and others that they were taking it seriously.
The loss of players such as utility forward James Goodger, winger Soli Malatai, and fullback Tafa Tafa are big blows, but they still front with a handy side.
Captain Peter Beech brings a hard-nosed never-say-die attitude from lock, while first-five Paddy Gluck has shown he can cut defences open.
Coach Gerald Lologa and Beech will certainly get the best out of their players.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Another potential top four team. Don’t write them off.
The only one of these three I have seen is Pioneer, and they were outclassed 8-43 by Greytown in the opening round.
Despite that, they showed enough to suggest that they will win their first game since returning to the premier competition last year at some stage this season.
Midfielders Nikora Ewe and Shayne Harmon, captain and loose forward Jonte Miller, and promising No 8 Conan Gray-Harmon are the key players.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Fitness has already been cited as a problem for the Blue and Reds, but I will predict a win at least.
East Coast kicked off with losses to Martinborough and Eketahuna before beating Gladstone last Saturday.
Ex-Canterbury rep lock Tom Broughton will add plenty of grunt and experience to what is sure to be a typically feisty Coasties forward pack and there is a heap of versatility in their backs with Bryan Arnold, Jack Wakeling, and Cam Ravenwood.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: They have the potential to upset a few teams, but will they get enough wins to make the top four?
Gladstone don’t have a deep pool of talent to call on but have enough experience to worry some teams.
The return of former Wai-Bush lock Andrew McLean brings a tough edge to the forward pack, and Ryan Knell and Eddie Cranston can dominate the loose exchanges.
Overall, they look a shadow of the side that won consecutive finals in 2017 and 2018 before losing to Martinborough in 2019.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Underestimate them at your peril, but the top four looks a stretch too far.