Tavita Isaac [with ball] returns to captain Greytown after being a late withdrawal against Marist. PHOTOS/FILE
Round one will answer questions
The ‘Town and Country’ is done and dusted, apart from the final, and the teams start the race for the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Cup. Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE previews the first round of the premier club championship.
Eketahuna v Carterton, Eketahuna, 2.35pm [Pete Semmens]
Carterton coach Neil Rodger is uncertain what to expect when his team travel to Eketahuna to take on the unbeaten winners of the ‘Country’ section of the Lane Penn Trophy.
Both teams are coming off big wins, Carterton 59-30 over Pioneer, and Eke 42-24 over Martinborough, but Rodger said it’s hard to gauge where the teams stand after the split Town and Country.
“They’re one of the form sides at the moment, but it’s going to be interesting to see what that form is actually like given that the two pools that have just finished, nobody really knows what the other side of the draw is like,” he said.
Carterton’s struggles have come in the forwards, but Rodger said, “We will have a number of forwards back in this week that we were without from last week against Pioneer and probably a couple of guys who didn’t play against Greytown, so we will be larger in the pack than we have been.”
Fijian lock Waisale Tubu, and fellow middle rower Francis Muller are expected to return, while utility forward Logan Wakefield will play his first game of the season, likely from the bench.
As well as the set piece, the Carterton pack will need to nullify the impact of the home side’s uncompromising loose forward trio of Johan van Vliet, BJ Campbell, and Sam Gammie, who have created havoc at the breakdown and been devastating with ball in hand.
“If we can get some possession, certainly going forward, we’re pretty hard to stop,” said Rodger.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: The game of the round, and there could be plenty of tries. It all depends on how much ball that explosive Carterton backline can get. The home side, just.
Greytown v East Coast, Greytown, 2.35pm [Alistair Payne]
Sticking to a structured style of play will be needed for a Greytown victory in today’s clash with East Coast.
That’s according to coach Mark Childs, who said that had been key to their three bonus-point wins and unbeaten run in the ‘Town’ section.
“It’s probably no secret that we’ve been playing some pretty good, structured rugby this season,” he said.
“Our game has been really basic, but we’re going to look for forward dominance and provide some space for our backs hopefully, so that front-foot ball would be nice.”
Childs is wary of the threat posed by the Coasties if play gets too loose.
“If you play a certain style, you can get sucked into what they want you to do, and you’ve just got to be wary of that, and they’re a team that can really get under your skin.
“We have a set plan for them, so as long as we stick to that, hopefully we can come away with a good win.”
Captain Tavita Isaac returns to the loose forward trio after being a late withdrawal from last weekend’s win over Marist. However, Greytown are still without several players with injury, most notably prop-No 8 Chris Hemi, with a potential season-ending shoulder injury.
East Coast come into the game with just the one win, against Gladstone last Saturday.
As well as vital championship points, up for grabs will be the Robertson Trophy, which recognises the contribution of Ritchie Robertson to both clubs.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: It’s hard to see Greytown being beaten, but one never discounts the Coasties, especially if the game becomes helter-skelter. A bonus point win to Greytown.
Marist v Gladstone, Memorial Park No 2, 2.35pm [Brad Evans, Marlborough]
Coach Steve Thompson wants to have consistency from Gladstone going into the clash against the defending champions.
Gladstone are without a win, while Marist had one win from the three rounds of the ‘Town and Country’ series.
Thompson said injuries meant he had been struggling to field a full-strength team, and he had to call up players from the club’s senior reserve side.
“Because we’re having to chop and change a bit, we haven’t really got it together yet, and we’re good on one thing one week, and then we fall away on another,” he said.
“Against Eke we got beaten at the breakdown, then against Martinborough they had too much early go-forward and last week against East Coast we had too many handling errors, which cost us, and if we scored when we should have it might have been a different game, but we didn’t get any reward for the work that had been done.”
The retirement of midfielder Cameron Hayton, rugged frontrower Richard Puddy, and the loss of loose forward Joe Tako, and utility back Inia Katia have left a big hole in the team.
With the likes of locks Andrew McLean and Andrew Smith, and loose forwards Josh Gatenby, Ryan Knell, and Eddie Cranston, Gladstone have the foundation of a solid team, but are lacking depth.
As for today, Thompson said he wants to have a bit more improvement.
“We want to try and put stuff together, and if we do things right, we’ll be okay but it’s starting to frustrate.”
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Although Marist have lost several players from last year’s champion side, they still have a strong side, and should be too good. Marist by 10-20 points.
Martinborough v Pioneer, Martinborough#1, 2.35pm [Shay O’Gorman]
There is always something special about the clashes between the two clubs, with many family connections sprinkled between them.
Martinborough showed enough in their first three games, that they have one of the best, if not the best, backlines in the competition.
The problem in their 42-24 loss to Eketahuna was that they were destroyed at the breakdown.
That won’t happen against Pioneer, and with in-form Tipene Haira at first-five, and scoring machines Tristan Flutey, Nathan Hunt, and Alex Priest out wide, the Martinborough forward pack should provide enough quality ball for them to weave their magic.
Pioneer cannot be written off and have shown enough in the first three games to indicate that an elusive win might not be too far away.
They have been competitive at set piece, and aggressive at the breakdown, with captain Jonte Miller leading the way, while Nikora Ewe has been a rock in midfield.
COGGIE’S PREDICTION: This should be a comfortable Martinborough victory, but if Pioneer get a roll-on and play with their traditional passion and flair, who knows. Martinborough with a bonus point.
In Senior Reserve games, Puketoi host Carterton, Greytown play East Coast, Marist are at home to Gladstone, Martinborough take on Tuhirangi, and Masterton Red Star play Pioneer at Colombo Rd at 2.30pm