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Jostling for the top four spots starts this weekend

Mikey Harmon scores for Pioneer in their loss to East Coast. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

Six in race for three semis spots
Greytown are guaranteed a home semifinal, and six teams are in the hunt for the remaining three places. CHRIS COGDALE looks at each team’s prospects heading into the final two rounds before the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup playoffs.

RUGBY

GREYTOWN

Former All Black Zac Guildford has been outstanding in the midfield for Greytown. PHOTO/FILE

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first.

Greytown are undefeated on 25 points with a 10-point lead, and a for-and-against differential of 142.

Barring a major loss of form, they will have the Weatherstone Cup for leading after the round-robin to add to an already bulging trophy cabinet after Saturday.

Gladstone at home on Saturday, and Pioneer away will be feisty opponents and potentially desperate for points.

But given Greytown’s depth across the paddock and growing confidence, it’s hard to see either upsetting the hot favourites.

In saying that, coaches Mark Childs and Paul Pottinger will leave no stone unturned in assuring that complacency does not creep into the competition frontrunners.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: An unbeaten season is surely on their bucket list.

PIONEER

Second on 15 points, one ahead of Gladstone and Carterton, the Blue and Reds have arguably the toughest route to the semifinals.

Next up is an away trip to Carterton, who are starting to realise their potential with solid wins over Martinborough, and Gladstone.

Pioneer succumbed to late pressure when losing to East Coast last weekend, their poor discipline resulting in two yellow cards, and the team bickering among themselves – traits which have generally been missing from the side this season.

They will probably need one more win to qualify for the top four, although they could sneak in with a losing bonus point or two.

It’s hard to see them upsetting Greytown in the final round, so their best hope probably lies in toppling Carterton on Saturday.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Will struggle to gain points against two strong sides, so the Hodder-Steffert Cup semis beckon.

CARTERTON

In joint third place on 14 points, a win over Pioneer at home on Saturday should be enough to secure a ‘Moose’ Kapene Cup semifinal.

An away trip against a potentially desperate Marist follows for the final weekend, so coach Neil Rodger would like to lock in a playoff spot with a round to spare.

The Maroons have been finding form at the right time, with solid wins over Martinborough [26-17], and Gladstone [25-7], which was their first away win in nine years against their fierce rivals.

Firm dry tracks would be ideal for unleashing their talented backline, but the front eight have shown in their most recent games that they are a match for most other forward packs.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Good enough to go all the way to the final, and they are one team that will relish playing on the Trust House Memorial Park artificial turf.

GLADSTONE

Locked together with Carterton in third place on 14 points, Gladstone have a hard road home with an away fixture against Greytown, followed by Eketahuna at home.

Given that they will be rank underdogs to upset the competition leaders on Saturday, their future will likely come down to a winner-take-all finale with Eketahuna.

One win might be enough to grab a top-four spot, and although Gladstone has been a mixed bag, they have shown that they could beat most sides on their day.

If anyone knows how to get his team firing at the business end of the season, it’s veteran coach Steve Thompson.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: It will all come down to that Eketahuna game, and then it’s a toss of a coin.

EAST COAST

East Coast are one of three teams on 11 points, along with Eketahuna and Marist, and most likely need two wins to break into the top four.

The Coasties have been ravaged with injury, with 11 players missing for last weekend’s gutsy 38-22 win over Pioneer.

A combative forward pack, aggressive defence, and a never-say-die attitude have been hallmarks of East Coast sides over the years, and this team is no different.

Those attributes make the Coasties one team that the others won’t want to meet in the semifinals.

A win over Marist at Whareama on Saturday, would set up a clash with struggling Martinborough in the final round.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Possibly the kindest draw [if there is such a thing] for the final two rounds, and the Coasties are good enough to win both. A top-four finish.

EKETAHUNA

Like East Coast and Marist, Eke will probably need to win their last two games to make the ‘Moose’ Kapene semis.

That starts with the hapless Martinborough at home on Saturday, followed by a potential knockout ‘quarterfinal’ at Gladstone.

They are another team racked with injury, and coach Craig Pepperell will be hoping that some of his star players will be back for a tough final two rounds, most notably co-captain and openside flanker Johan van Vliet.

Eke showed character last Saturday with a determined come from behind 31-22 defeat of Marist, with only 17 players available.

With mud, mud, and more mud at Eketahuna, there will be nothing fancy about the home side’s approach against Martinborough. Keep it close to the forwards and just get the win, making for a blockbuster clash with Gladstone on the final day.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Have shown they are good enough on the day. If near full strength, they can make it.

MARIST

A tough finish for the defending champions, with an away game at East Coast, and a home clash with Carterton to wrap up the round-robin, and they are likely to need to win both.

Strong at setpieces, Marist have been found out at the breakdown and have struggled to contain the likes of Pioneer, Greytown, and Eketahuna.

There will be no respite against East Coast, and a loss there would confine Marist to the Hodder-Steffert Cup. If they can pull off a victory at Whareama, they would still have to tip over Carterton to qualify.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Two wins will be a bridge too far.

MARTINBOROUGH

The 2019 champions have the potential to be the spoilers, but the problem for coach James Bruce all season has been injuries and unavailabilities, especially in the forward pack.

It’s difficult to see them upsetting Eketahuna in the mud at Eke, and they will find a determined East Coast a hard nut to crack in the final round.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: A winless round-robin

COGGIE’S SEMIFINALISTS

The competition continues to throw up surprises, and apart from Greytown, any team can beat any other on their day, so any outcome would not surprise me.

So, to avoid being accused of sitting on the fence – Greytown, Carterton, East Coast, and a toss of a coin with Gladstone or Eketahuna for the top four.

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