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All on the line in Eke

Eketāhuna vs Martinborough

Eketāhuna, 2.35pm [Chris Jefferies]

“We’re treating it like a final.”

That’s how Martinborough coach James Bruce is approaching tomorrow’s final match of the first round, which will decide the winners of the Lane Penn Cup.

Carterton’s win by default over East Coast lifted them to 29 points, five clear of Martinborough, who must beat Eketāhuna with a four-try bonus point to become the first club to not only retain the Lane Penn Cup but win it twice. Anything other than that would see the cup, named after the legendary Wairarapa Bush coach, locked away in the Carterton trophy cabinet for the first time.

Although Bruce is determined to win the cup, he feels that getting his players up for the vital clash could be the biggest challenge.

“It is a final, but the points are all zero next week, which is a little bit disappointing. It’s been like this before, but it’s quite different, and some boys treat it like preseason,” he said.

“It’s our first bus trip, so we’ve got a bit of off-field stuff organised, and we’ll get into it. We’re closing the book on this round and opening a new one for the next round.”

Bruce is wary of the threat posed by a resurgent Eketāhuna and does not expect any favours from the union’s northernmost club.

“Eke are pretty keen, and I’m just rapt for their club because it looked pretty average towards the end of last season. Good on them for being part of it, and they’re a fairly big contender in the whole thing, but I’m glad we’re going to Eke in the first round when the field is probably not bad.

Veteran outside back Nathan Hunt and halfback Chance Ropiha return from injury; however, in-form fullback Shane Colton [knee] and big prop Ty Waight [shoulder] remain sidelined.

Eketāhuna coach Anthony Rowden has eight players, including inspirational captain Sam Gammie, return for the clash, and the first-year coach has no intention of handing victory to the visitors but is also realistic and has an eye to the second round.

“We’ve got to have confidence and go into the second round approaching top gear,” Rowden said.

“We’ve stumbled along and put two games together but have been in fits and starts since then, and we’ve talked about having momentum going into the second round because this round is basically preseason, and we’re just trying to nail our structures, really.

“I’m quietly confident that if everyone turns up with the right headspace and we just want to go from being competitive to being dominant, that’s our biggest challenge because just being competitive doesn’t win you games.

“Marty have got some exciting backs, and they never have a weak forward pack, so it’s going to be a good old ding dong.”

Much of Eke’s revival is down to the injection of several Fijians, who have brought flair and excitement not only on the field but in the town.

“Everyone is talking rugby here, which is great, and the Fijians are living locally and are part of the community. That has helped as well because their laughter and banter is quite refreshing really and totally different.”

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Marty will need to improve significantly from their scratchy win over Masterton Red Star, and Eke are rarely easybeats on their home track. Given a good day and a dry track, it should be a high-scoring doozy, and I’m happy to get splinters and sit on the fence and enjoy as a neutral.

Masterton Red Star vs Marist

Colombo Road, 2.35pm [Alistair Payne]

It’s hard to know what attitude both teams will bring.

Masterton Red Star could view this as the ideal opportunity to try and end their lengthy run without a premier win, although it won’t be easy against a Marist side who have shown good form in recent weeks, including big wins over Martinborough and Eketāhuna in their most recent matches.

However, Marist could also choose to rest some key players and give some of their squad players good game time.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: It’s difficult to see Marist losing this one, but who knows, could this finally be Stars’ day?

Pioneer vs Greytown

Jeans Street, 2.35pm [Shay O’Gorman]

Another game with nothing resting on the result.

Greytown are coming off a comprehensive loss to Carterton, while Pioneer sneaked only their second win of the first round against East Coast.

Like the Stars–Marist encounter, it’s hard to see the coaches risking too many key players in a game with nothing on the line, so the usual benchwarmers could expect a decent amount of game time.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Pioneer are nearly always tricky at home, so I will pump for them narrowly.

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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