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Marist on a mission

Marist winger Soli Malatai, right, dotting down in the first-round win over Martinborough. PHOTOS/FILE

Can Marist make their first final in 12 years, or will Martinborough back up last year’s finals appearance in tomorrow’s semifinals, ponders CHRIS COGDALE.

Marist v Martinborough, Marist, 2.35pm [Rebecca Mahoney].

Last Saturday, Marist achieved their goal of winning the Moose Kapene Cup for the first time.

Today, they aim to be the first Marist side to make the premier championship final since 2008 which the club lost 15-18 to East Coast.

Standing in the way of the green-and-whites are defending champions Martinborough, who Marist beat in an entertaining round-robin match 41-35, after Martinborough took an early 18-3 lead.

Marist captain Peter Beech said that staying in the game for the full 80 minutes had been key to their success, and they would need to be switched on to shut down their opponents’ talented backline.

“They’ll chuck it around no doubt – it’s probably one of the better backlines in the comp,” he said.

“We’re first in attack, they’re second in attack. They have that good back three and with Tipi [Haira] and Priesty [Tim Priest] in their midfield, that’s where they cut us open last time, so we’ll focus on shutting that down.”

Beech, who goes in at lock, said Marist have a clear advantage in the forward pack.

“We’ll target the scrum and the lineout. We do have a big pack, and our frontrow is probably one of the bigger ones going around. When those guys get going forward, it always works well for us.”

Marist have been given a further boost with James Goodger cleared to play after overcoming a rib injury, but Beech was uncertain whether the NZ Heartland representative forward will start or come off the bench.

“At the start of the year, we aimed to be the first Marist team to win the Moose Kapene Cup, and we’ve ticked that off, but now we start with a blank box again, and if we lose this week, it means nothing.

“I’m feeling confident, and I’m feeling good, and there’s a lot of belief in the guys,” Beech said.

Martinborough coach James Bruce is calling on his experienced players to lead the team to their second consecutive final.

“There are probably 11 guys who didn’t play last year, so the older guys who were there are going to have to lead from the front because finals rugby is a little bit of a jump up,” he said.

One area where Martinborough are likely to struggle is in the forwards, where Marist’s significant height and weight advantage told in the second half of their round-robin encounter.

“That forward pack we had going into that game we haven’t had since, and we’ve introduced a few reserves players, and they’ve gone all right.”

“We’ve got a scavenging forward pack and have a lot of small guys who are good battlers, so as coaches we have to get the numbers right.”

If Martinborough can achieve a reasonable share of possession, they had the talent to make it pay.

“We’re probably feared in that we can score a couple of tries in five minutes pretty easy if someone makes a mistake, and we can live off that, and other teams are well aware of that, so there’s no hiding it.

“The boys are really looking forward to the challenge because we know it’s going to be a big one and we’re going to have to play pretty smart,” Bruce said.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION:

Marist go in as deserved favourites having dropped only one game this season. However, finals footy is a different ball game and Martinborough have the big match experience from winning the Tui Cup in 2019. Marist only pulled away in their round-robin clash when Martinborough were reduced to 14 players. I say it will be as close again and will plump for Marist to get up in a high-scoring encounter.

Hammer and tongs semi in Greytown

Greytown v Eketahuna, Greytown, 2.35pm [Shay O’Gorman].

Eketahuna came from behind to win the round-robin clash with Greytown 19-17, and an equally tense and closely fought battle is expected today.

Kirk Tufuga … in outstanding form for Eketahuna.

Much of Eketahuna’s game plan revolves around their aggressive forward pack led by 2019 Wairarapa-Bush captain and No 8 Kirk Tufuga, fellow loosies Johan van Vliet and BJ Campbell, rep props Max Tufuga and Sam Gammie, and promising lock Tom McKay.

However, Eketahuna coach Wayne Roach said there was more to the team than just a good forward pack.

“I don’t underrate my backs to be fair, and they showed that against Carterton last Saturday when we scored two outstanding tries through our backs,” he said.

Eketahuna went off the boil late in that 23-23 draw with Carterton, which Roach said was important preparation for the semifinal.

“We had a fair amount of momentum going into that game, and then after that week off it took us a while to get going again, but we’ll be better for that workout.”

Although Eketahuna won their previous meeting with Greytown, Roach was reading nothing into that result.

“This is totally different, and we’re down there on their park this time. We’ve just got to believe in what we’re doing, and if we can’t do that, it will be the end of the story.”

Greytown come into the game on the back of a clinical 26-18 win over East Coast last Saturday, a result which pleased coach Mark Childs.

“We tweaked our gameplan slightly and really tried to put the pressure back on the opposition. They scored late which made it look closer than it was, but we were very happy,” he said.

However, Childs said Eketahuna pose the biggest threat of any team in the semifinals.

“I don’t know if you call it predictable or not, but we know what they’re going to throw at us with their forward pack and the way they play.

“They’re not going to be easy to crack and they would have looked at our game and would come up with ways to negate our attacking threat, but we have home ground advantage, which is huge for us.”

Like their opponents, Greytown can also call on plenty of experience, with the likes of captain and No 8 Tavita Isaac, blindside flanker Tana Isaac, first-five Kingi Kaiwai, midfield back Teihana Brown, and outside back Nick Olson.

As well, blockbusting props Lewis Bush and Chris Hemi, and utility back Raniera Petersen are exciting youngsters.

Childs said: “We’ve just got to trust our own abilities and the game plan and go out there and execute it.”

“I haven’t really given much focus around the semifinal – it’s more about the guys getting their heads in the right space and going out there and performing.”

The game will be streamed live on Wairarapa TV and the Wai-Bush Facebook page.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION:

I find it very hard to separate the two teams. But home ground advantage is massive, and for that reason only I will go for Greytown, but no surprise if it went the other way.

HODDER-STEFFERT CUP

East Coast v Gladstone, Whareama, 2.35pm [Alistair Payne].

East Coast looked good for much of the Moose Kapene Cup before fading in the later rounds.

Gladstone made a slow start and gradually improved and can call on plenty of playoff experience.

Gladstone to win narrowly and progress to next weekend’s final against Carterton, who won by default from Pioneer.

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