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New faces get chance to impress


Wairarapa Bush vs
Central Hawke’s Bay

Eketāhuna, 1pm Monday

Copthorne Wairarapa Bush Reece Robinson is using Monday’s first representative outing as a chance to assess young talent with an eye on the Heartland Championship.

Seven players in the starting XV and another 10 on the bench have yet to don the green and red at senior level but have impressed over the first eight weekends of the club season, and Robinson is keen to see how they stand up to the rigours of representative rugby.

“The idea is to give everyone good minutes. It would be great to have a win, but the result is not everything for us, and it’s a good opportunity to look at those younger players, and we’ll make bulk changes at halftime,” Robinson said.

Four of the new faces are in the forwards. Hooker Caedman Hawkins and No. 8 Tama Bartlett have been rewarded for their good form with the rapidly improving Masterton Red Star Rams, lock Sekove Finanu, who has been outstanding for Eketāhuna, and lock Cody Cunningham, who has been a standout in an injury-hit Martinborough pack.

The inclusion of captain Sam Gammie at tighthead is a surprise, but the veteran has performed the role well in the past, and Robinson wants “to see if he is still up to that level, and if so, that would be fantastic for us moving forward, for our Heartland campaign.”

Two front-rowers in their first year out of college, Conley Alexander and William Kloeg, are joined by Rams prop Joseph Heihei and East Coast flanker Thomas Williams as debutants off the bench, along with veteran loose forward BJ Campbell.

An interesting exclusion is barnstorming Carterton prop Tupou Lea’aemanu, with Robinson giving the hard charger the game off.

“He’s been outstanding and in the props, there are Joe Heihei and young William [Kloeg] we want to have a look at. We know how Tupou operates and there are no questions about how he performs, we just want to see how these other guys step up to the next level.”

The Eketāhuna inside-back combination of Benazzi Ward and Ashton Coates are being given their chance to impress on their home ground.

“I think Benazzi has got a fantastic pass and a great box kick, and Ashton’s been controlling Eketāhuna really well; he’s not afraid to take it to the line, he’s not afraid on defence in the tackle, so that’s what I want in a 10, so they get the opportunity.”

Greytown winger Joseph Te Naihi is the only other starting debutant in the back line, which oozes attacking potential with the midfield pairing of Carterton’s Fiula Tameilau and Marist’s Charles Mataitai, exciting Marist winger Hayden Cooper and Martinborough veteran Tipene Haira at fullback.

Regular Rams fullback Tarquin Karaitiana has been named as reserve halfback because of a shortage of quality number nines in the union, with the rest of the back reserves comprising Pioneer first-five Zinny Harmon, experienced utility Tafa Tafa, the Ekeathuna duo Lesikoro Iliesa and Nacanieli Buadromo, and the Martinborough pair Bryce Cummings and Michael Buick.

Several players weren’t considered for selection because of injury, while Robinson has cut four others from the squad over a lack of communication.

The second-year coach is hopeful of a more competitive match than last year when Wai Bush romped to a 74–12 victory at Waipukurau.

“I’ve spoken to their coaches, and they were disappointed and embarrassed after last year’s performance. They’ll definitely be a lot stronger than last year, and it will be good for us if they bring a competitive team down to give our guys a good run,” he said.

The Stu Smith Memorial Trophy, played in honour of the late Wai Bush lock, who also represented Hawke’s Bay and died in 2016 after a long battle with motor neuron disease, is also up for grabs.


Greytown vs Martinborough

Gladstone 7.00pm [Chris Jefferies]

Concentrating on the first half is the focus for Martinborough coach James Bruce heading into tonight’s clash between two of the first-round losers.

Martinborough’s fate against Carterton last week was sealed in the first 20 minutes when they conceded 28 points, and that followed a slow start against Eketāhuna when they trailed 12–5 at halftime.

“We need to focus on that first 40. Our second half against Carterton was fairly evenish, and we’ve been good in our discipline, so in terms of that, we’re pretty happy; it’s just getting the first half of the game right,” Bruce said.

The “green and blacks”, though, are still battling with a lengthy injury list, including big prop Ty Waight, loose forward Tiawharangi Aranui, exciting young fullback Shane Colton and inspirational midfielder Harry Eschenbach, and Bruce is pleased he can call on players from the club’s second team to fill the void with no senior reserve games over the long weekend.

Bruce is expecting a typically testy southern derby, even more so after Greytown were upset by Masterton Red Star last weekend.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Very close, but Martinborough to sneak it in a real ding-dong battle.

Eketāhuna vs Pioneer

Eketahuna 7.00pm [Kaleb Rowlands]

“Our back set piece defence has to improve drastically; otherwise, we’ll bleed tries.”

That’s the view of Pioneer coach Victor Thompson ahead of tonight’s second-round championship game under lights at Eketāhunato.

Pioneer had no answer to a rampant Marist last Saturday when the Mataitai brothers Willy and Charles at times sliced through the Pioneer defence like a hot knife through butter.

Thompson said the Marist attack was “very good in the first 20 minutes, and we were waiting for them to make mistakes, but they didn’t come.” However, he insists the backline defence must improve to complement the forwards, who “are going well this year.”

“We’re winning 90 per cent of our set piece, whereas last year it was a bit of a struggle to hit 50, and we’ve turned that around; now we just have to get our backs firing.”

Thompson expects no surprises from Eketāhuna, who have added a new dimension to their game with some exciting backs.

“Their forwards always do the grunt work, and we’re hoping for a semi-dry track up there, but they’ve got some threats out the back, so all around, they’ll do alright, so we have to be on our own game and be on our toes.”

A big blow for Pioneer is the unavailability of midfield back Nikora Ewe, who has arguably been their best player this season.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Ewe is a big loss for Pioneer, and Eke on their own patch is a tough ask. The home side just.

Wairarapa Bush team to
play Central Hawke’s Bay

Backs – Tipene Haira, Hayden Cooper, Charles Mataitai, Fiula Tameilau, Joseph Te Naihi, Ashton Coates, Benazzi Ward

Forwards – Tama Bartlett, Ryan Knell, Cody Cunningham, Tom Campbell, Sekove Finanu, Sam Gammie [capt], Caedman Hawkins, Stan Wright Jnr

Substitutions – Conley Alexander, William Kloeg, Joseph Heihei, Thomas Williams, BJ Campbell, Tarquin Karaitiana, Zinny Harmon, Tafa Tafa, Michael Buick, Lesikoro Iliesa, Nacanieli Buadromo, Bryce Cummings

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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