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Race for first round honours: All to play for

Simanu Simanu is expected to make his return for Eketahuna today. PHOTOS/FILE

Cup Battle: The heat goes on
With two rounds to play before the Moose Kapene Cup is decided, only three points separate the top four teams. Times-Age sportswriter Chris Cogdale previews today’s club rugby action.

Which club’s name is going to be inscribed on the Moose Kapene Cup?

The much sought-after trophy, named after one of Wairarapa-Bush’s rugby legends of the 1980s, is awarded to the team with the most points after the first round of the premier club championship?

With two rounds of matches to be played, there are many permutations to consider.

Eketahuna and Greytown on 19 points, last year’s winners Gladstone with 17 points, and Martinborough on 16 points, have realistic prospects of lifting the trophy.

But none have anything like an easy passage over the past two rounds.

Eke face a tricky away fixture to East Coast today followed by a home game against the under-performing but talented Carterton.

Greytown host reigning champions Gladstone followed by another home game against East Coast.

Gladstone follow today’s Greytown match with a home game against Marist.

Martinborough will fancy their chances of lifting the trophy named after their club legend with games at home to the unpredictable Marist today, and finishing with a potential bonus-point victory over Masterton Red Star.

Greytown v Gladstone, Greytown, 2.35pm [Referee: Alistair Payne]

Arguably the game of the round with both teams desperate to get back to winning ways.

Greytown dropped their first game last week to Marist, while the defending champions have stumbled against Martinborough and Eketahuna in their past two outings.

This should be very tight between two very even teams across the paddock.

Both have powerful forward packs and potential matchwinners in their backline.

Nick Olson at fullback and punishing winger Moo Moo Falaniko for Greytown, and Gladstone’s flying Fijians Epeli Rayaqayaqa and Inia Katia have the x-factor to make the most of what are likely to be limited attacking opportunities.

Coggie’s prediction:

Home advantage will be the difference. Greytown by very few points.

East Coast v Eketahuna, Whareama, 2.35pm [Peter Semmens]

Old-Timers’ Day at Whareama features two teams who have hit their straps over the past two weeks. Eketahuna’s confidence will be sky-high after a tough 13-0 win over Gladstone last week, while the Coasties hit form with two big wins over Marist and Masterton Red Star to keep alive their top four aspirations.

The arrival of three Samoans, including former Wairarapa-Bush centre Simanu Simanu, speedy fullback Vaifagaloa Mamoe, and huge lock Clinton Keil-Skelton, have added to the depth of an already solid Eketahuna side.

Eketahuna should dominate the set phases, while the Coasties rely heavily on their ability to snaffle ball at the breakdown, and flourish when a game loses its structure.

Coggie’s prediction:

Always difficult to win at the Coast, especially on Old-Timers Day. But like the way Eketahuna are travelling, so will go for them in a close contest.

Influential James Goodger playing at lock for Marist.

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

There’s plenty to play for in this match with Martinborough an outside chance of winning the Moose Kapene Cup. And Marist need another win to stay in touch with the top four.

There should be plenty to keep the crowd entertained, with both teams liking to throw the ball around and they both have the players, who know how to finish a try.

Martinborough winger Nathan Hunt has been in scintillating try-scoring form, having crossed the line four times, while Tuli Malatai also has the wheels to make the most of any space he is given.

The forward battle is expected to be very even, but one can’t underestimate the influence that last year’s Wairarapa-Bush captain, James Goodger, can have on a game, whether at loose forward or in his
less-favoured locking role.

Coggie’s prediction:

Martinborough in an entertaining, high-scoring game.

Carterton v Masterton Red Star, Carterton 2.35pm [Graeme Reisima]

On the surface, this should be an easy victory for Carterton.

Even though the home team have had their struggles to sit in seventh place on 10 points, six points outside the top four, they should be too good for the competition tail-enders.

Masterton Red Star will compete in the forwards, particularly in the set pieces, and will win a reasonable share of possession.

But their inability to score points, with just 15 points from three tries in five games, and their lack of intent on defence, see their points differential at -334, an average losing margin of 66.

Carterton have a good scrum and lineout that should give their young backline plenty of possession and opportunities to expose Stars’ defensive frailties.

Coggie’s prediction:
A comfortable bonus point win for Carterton.

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