Halfback Daryl Picketing will be key to Carterton’s chances. PHOTO/FILE

Jostling for Tui Cup semifinal spots begins
Club rugby returns after the bye weekend. Times-Age sportswriter Chris Cogdale previews round eight of the Tui Cup.

Eketahuna v Martinborough, Eketahuna, 2.35pm [Referee: Matt McEwen, Manawatu]

An intriguing battle is in store between the two top four teams.

Only one point separates Eketahuna – joint leaders with Gladstone – and Martinborough in third place.

The first round game saw Eke come back from a big deficit to win 31-28, but a lot has changed since then.

Eketahuna’s forward pack have strengthened their reputation as one of the toughest in the competition and the backline has been set alight with the inclusion of two Samoan flyers – Vaifagaloa Mamoe and Ausage Faumui.

The absence of dynamic flanker Johan van Vliet, overseas for a wedding, will be a big loss for the home side.

Martinborough have built steadily after a slow start.

They have impressed in some high-scoring wins, including one over defending champions Gladstone.

Depending on how much rain has fallen, ground conditions could play a big part in this game.

Coggie’s prediction:

If ground is heavy as expected, Eketahuna in a close one.

Carterton v Marist, Carterton, 2.35pm, [Chris Jefferies]

The dance of the desperate.

Possibly the most important match of the round with both teams needing a win to keep alive their slim top four aspirations.

Marist are in fifth place on 20 points, seven behind fourth-placed Greytown, while Carterton have 17 points.

With Greytown likely to pick up a bonus-point victory over Masterton Red Star, there’s the potential of a 10-point gap opening between the top four and the also rans.

Both teams have shown that they have the potential to match it with the higher ranked teams, but lack of consistency, even within a game, has haunted them.

Carterton had their chances against Eketahuna, and Gladstone, but couldn’t nail the victory. Likewise Marist against Gladstone. Carterton won the first round clash 26-20 and another closely-fought encounter is likely.

Coggie’s prediction:

Marist narrowly and with a four-try bonus point

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

Gladstone won the first round encounter 36-3, but East Coast are a different proposition at Whareama.

Despite that, Gladstone will target this as a potential five-point game. The defending champions stumbled with losses to Eketahuna and Martinborough but have shown the mettle of a champion side to win vital matches against Greytown, Marist and Carterton.

The forward pack, superbly led by veteran hooker Richard Puddy, locks Andrew McLean and Andrew Smith, hard-nosed flanker Ryan Knell and big No 8 Joe Tako, have really hit their straps in recent games.

Add in quality backs such as the versatile Cameron Hayton and Inia Katia, and the competition’s leading try-scorer Logan Prendeville-Heberton, they deserve to start warm favourites.

However, never underestimate the Coasties –especially at home.

If the game becomes fractured that’s what the Red and Whites relish. They will take advantage of any small window of opportunity.

As more than one coach has said, they will upset one of the big guns soon.

Coggie’s prediction:

Gladstone too much all-round depth. A bonus point victory

Greytown v Masterton Red Star, Greytown, 2.35pm [Mike Wakefield]

The easiest game of the round to predict. Greytown won their first encounter 69-5 and although it may not be a similar scoreline, this should be a comfortable victory for the home side.

Greytown have stuttered at times after making a promising start.

Losses to Marist, Gladstone and Eketahuna has left them in fourth place, four points off third.

Their combative forward pack should provide ample possession for their backline to use and test the defence of the Red Star backline which has been found wanting all season.

The Masterton Red Star forwards have stood out all season long but rugby is a 15-person game, not just eight.

Coggie’s prediction:

May not be 60 points but another big win for Greytown.