Gladstone’s Eddie Cranston in action against Martinborough. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Back-to-back titles are within Gladstone’s reach as we head into the semifinals of the Wairarapa-Bush Tui Cup rugby competition.
The defending champions have set the pace in the premier grade for the entire season, and two more winning performances will ensure they are lifting the title once again.
Standing in their way this weekend is Martinborough – the only team to have beaten them this season.
It is an intriguing match that should be closely-fought, and both teams will be well aware of what the other is capable of.
Martinborough have arguably the most dynamic backline in the competition this season, but Gladstone have been the most lethal attacking team in terms of points scored.
They have racked up 593 points in their 14 matches to date, with Martinborough sitting in second with 505.
Martinborough have actually conceded less points than Gladstone this season, but Gladstone’s ability to get the job done in tight situations has proven more valuable.
The two teams have fought out two thrilling contests so far this season, with remarkably similar results.
Gladstone claimed the first encounter 20-16 at home, but Martinborough flipped that result on its head with a 20-15 upset win two weeks ago.
Gladstone’s strength lies in having a settled squad across the board, and there are no obvious weaknesses within the team.
They have a forward pack that is capable of keeping pace with anyone on their day, while the backline is full of talented players with plenty of experience.
Halfback Inia Katia has been in outstanding form throughout the season and has already scored 20 tries.
The top points-scorer accolade usually goes to a goalkicker, but Katia is only four points behind the competition leader, Tipene Haira.
Haira will also be looking to add to his tally today when he takes the field for Martinborough.
He is part of an exciting backline that arguably has more firepower than any other in the competition, but whether they can harness that potential is another matter.
Inside backs Chance Ropiha and Tim Priest will be charged with marshalling their team, and creating chances for outside backs Nikora Ewe and Reece Calkin to prosper.
In the forwards, hooker James Pakoti is back from his World Cup qualifiers with the Cook Islands, while flanker Chris Raymond is always a threat.
Tui Cup semifinals: Gladstone v Martinborough, Gladstone at 2.35pm [Alistair Payne]; Carterton v Greytown, Carterton at 2.35pm [Chris Jefferies].
Hodder Steffert Plate semifinals: Marist v Red Star, Memorial Park No 1 at 2.35pm [Mike Wakefield]; East Coast v Eketahuna, Whareama at 2.35pm [Atene Karauria].
Top four semifinals: Tuhirangi v Puketoi, Pirinoa at 2.30pm; Pioneer v Carterton, Pioneer at 2.35pm.
Middle four semifinals: Pioneer OB v Marist, Pioneer at 1pm; Featherston v Greytown, Featherston at 2.30pm.
Bottom four semifinals: Eketahuna v East Coast, Eketahuna at 1pm; Gladstone v Martinborough, Gladstone at 1pm.
Secondary Schools [tomorrow]
Central North Island: Rathkeale v St Peter’s, Rathkeale at 11am.