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Hard-fought semis on the cards

CHRIS ‘MOOSE’ KAPENE MEMORIAL CUP SEMI-FINALS

Carterton vs Pioneer

Carterton, 2.35pm [Chris Jefferies]

Don’t suggest to Carterton coach Garth Thomson that the defending champions are a shoo-in to progress to next Saturday’s ‘Moose’ Kapene Cup final.

Thomson, in his first year as head coach, is wary of the threat posed by a Pioneer side, who bounced back from two heavy losses to Martinborough [54-20] and Carterton [77-5] and are on an unbeaten run of five matches, including crucial wins over fellow semi-finalists Greytown [19-15] and Marist [21-19], and with good momentum going into tomorrow’s do-or-die clash.

“We have to respect them, they’ve had a pretty good season, really, and they’re a totally different team than we played in the round-robin,” Thomson said.

“That means nothing; there are different personnel. Their Fijians were missing, and so was Nikora Ewe, and when they turn it on, they’re hard to stop.”

Despite the threat posed by the in-form Pioneer, Thomson is more intent on getting his players in the right frame of mind after two big wins since a surprise 27-21 loss to Greytown three weeks ago.

“It depends on how we turn up as well. We’re mentally prepared, but it’s big work on, as you can see from Greytown, and then the week later, we certainly were good over Martinborough, so a lot of it has come down to individual preparation.

“We have really good belief there at the moment and a really good culture which we’ve been working on all season.”

Carterton have plenty of big game players to fuel their confidence, led by the mercurial Fijian veteran Inia Katia, who has a new lease of life since moving from the backs into openside flanker [his battle with the in-form Himiona Haira is a mouthwatering prospect], barnstorming prop Tupou Lea’aemanu, and dangerous attackers in Aseri Waqa and Fiula Tameilau in the backline.

All four were in Carterton’s championship-winning team in 2022, although Thomson said this year’s squad is quite different.

“We’ve got 11 or 12 missing from last year, so we’ve got a really good group of senior guys with leadership roles, and then we’ve got a bunch of guys in the middle, and we’ve got quite a few young guys as well so we have a really good mix and the older guys can talk to the younger guys, and that’s what it’s all about at this time of the year.”

The conditions, with some rain forecast for tomorrow, won’t phase Carterton, who have shown they’re adept in all conditions, especially in the Martinborough game, which was played in a quagmire.

“The wet or the dry doesn’t really bother us, but we’ve been playing reasonably well in the wet, and most grounds are heavy, so we’ve adapted our game around that,” said Thomson.

Pioneer coach Victor Thompson accepts that beating Carterton on their home track is a big ask but said the players are ready, and he’s confident ahead of the club’s first premier semi-final appearance since 2015.

“We’ve just to take it to them up front, and they’ve got some big boys who are used to having it their own way, and we’ll try to match a bit of firepower with firepower and see how we get on,” said Thompson, who expects the game to go to the wire.

“It’s definitely an 80-minute game come finals time and right to the last minute, so you never know, but I think our impact players are going to play a big role, and we’ll have to use them quite wisely and make sure they do their job when they get on.”

Pioneer are without flying winger Timoci Vatunitu, who has returned to Fiji for family reasons, while promising first-five Zinny Harmon remains on the injured list, forcing captain Reece Calkin into the pivot’s role.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Carterton have shown in the past two weeks how good they can be, and although Pioneer pose a real threat, the home side should take the chocolates.

Greytown vs Marist

Greytown, 2.35pm [Alistair Payne]

Tavita Isaac knows all about winning trophies, having been a key member of Greytown’s five championship-winning sides since 2012, and the veteran loose forward believes this year’s team are peaking nicely after a rocky start to the season.

“We were really humbled as a team in that first round with considerable losses to a number of teams, including Marist [51-19], so it’s great to get some momentum, but at the same time, we don’t have to look back too far to see the results that we’ve had against some of these teams, and we’re going out there to try and turn the tables this time like we did against Martinborough and Carterton,” Isaac said.

“We’ve got a good mix of experience and youth, but guys like Cyrus Baker, Nick Olson, Tana Isaac and Rihi Brown, probably bring a level of experience that no other team in the competition have.

“With the number of players who have played in numerous semis and grand finals, I would say we’re pretty blessed as a club and a team to have those guys on hand.”

Isaac predicts a torrid affair against Marist, who he rates, along with Carterton, as the form team of the championship with attacking threats across the paddock, and he’s pleased to have the psychological advantage of playing at home.

“It’s probably more of a disadvantage for the opposition, but we love playing at home. It’s a special place, and we’ve definitely had better results than we’ve had away, but it’s just reward for our supporters and our club that’s followed us throughout the season to have a home semi.”

Greytown will field close to the same side that outplayed Martinborough last Saturday, with first-five Ray Oakley out with concussion. Former Hurricane Andre Taylor could come into the side but has also been struggling with injury and remains doubtful.

Marist assistant coach Peter Beech believes being able to field close to the same squad each week is in their favour, and he’s confident of booking a place in their second consecutive final and third in four seasons.

“We got through last week [beating Eketahuna 10-5], and that was a tough one, and as soon as I said to the boys we’ve got Greytown, there was a cheer went up, and everyone wanted that game, and everyone’s excited it’s Greytown at Greytown, and that’s what they wanted by the sound of it,” said Beech, adding that it was important Marist stick to their natural game, and winning the key moments.

“We don’t want to play within ourselves. The weather hasn’t been ideal lately, but we kind of want to cut loose and don’t feel like we have to follow a specific system. We still want some of that Marist flair.

“It’s winning those key moments and capitalising on that. You might get three or four, and if you don’t take them, that’s no points, but if you convert them it puts you in a pretty handy position.”

However, Beech is aware of the threat posed by the rejuvenated Greytown.

“If they get a roll-on and some confidence, they’ll be hard to stop, and they have some good guys in key positions.

“If you’ve got Andre playing and Cyrus, there’s a lot of experience there, and those two almost singlehandedly won the Palmy [Manawatu] comp last year, and if you give Tana Isaac and Lewis Bush any room, they’ll roll forward, and if you don’t stop them at the advantage line they’re just going to get a good roll-on and Sam Walton-Sexton, he’s a running halfback so if you can stop them getting the front-foot ball it will make an easier day for us.”

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Very tight, and neither result would surprise me. For the sake of picking a winner – Greytown – but with no real conviction.

HODDER-STEFFERT
CUP FINAL

Martinborough vs East Coast

Trust House Memorial Park, 2.35pm [Pete Semmens]

Probably the final neither team want to play, especially Lane Penn Cup winners Martinborough, who would be gutted in missing out on the ‘Moose’ Kapene Cup semi-finals.

The artificial turf should suit ‘Marty’, and they should come away with a comfortable win, but then again, it all depends on what attitude both teams take into the game.

SENIOR RESERVES
SEMI-FINALS

Tuhirangi are warmly favoured to beat Greytown at Pirinoa at 2pm, and Masterton Red Star should have the edge on Pioneer in the 1pm game at Colombo Rd in the Ryan Cup semi-finals. In the Presidents Cup, Gladstone are at home to Martinborough and Marist host East Coast.

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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