Tui Cup champions Gladstone will start their title defence with a rematch of the 2018 final. PHOTOS/FILE

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

A rematch of last year’s final will kick off the 2019 Wairarapa-Bush premier club rugby season.

Carterton will host champions Gladstone on April 6 in what is a traditionally feisty local derby.

Gladstone will be aiming to start their campaign for a third consecutive championship with a positive result. Carterton will be seeking some semblance of revenge for the comprehensive 10-32 loss in last year’s cup final.

Gladstone coach Steve Thompson is looking forward to the challenge of taking on the club’s traditional foes.

Gladstone’s Richard Puddy scoring a try against Carterton in last year’s Tui Cup final.

“The match will set the tone for the start of the season and will give a good gauge of what the clubs need to do to be competitive,” he said on Tuesday.

Thompson said it’s too early to confirm who will be in his squad, but he expects it to be “pretty much the same” as last year’s champion side, “when all the players become available”.

“Like most clubs, quite a few players of our players are still tied up with work commitments”.

Thompson is confident Gladstone will feature prominently throughout the season.

The Premier Grade features the same eight teams as the 2018 season.

Martinborough, Greytown, Marist, Masterton Red Star, Eketahuna, and East Coast are the other teams.

Masterton Red Star retained their premier status despite losing the promotion-relegation match against Pioneer. That result was overturned, after a protracted protest procedure, when it was found that Pioneer had fielded several ineligible players.

A feature of the draw is four night matches to be played on April 18 – the Thursday leading into Easter.

It also includes a bye weekend on Queen’s Birthday Weekend to allow the traditional representative fixture against Hawke’s Bay to be played.

The competition starts with the Moose Kapene Cup, which is awarded to the leading team after the completion of the first full round-robin.

The points will carry forward, and after the completion of two rounds, the top four will play in the semifinals, with the winners progressing to the Tui Cup final.

The bottom four will also play semifinals, with the winners playing for the Hodder-Steffert Trophy.

Other matches of the opening weekend will feature East Coast against Martinborough at Whareama, Greytown at home to Eketahuna, and Masterton Red Star looking for their first win since returning to the premier grade against Marist.

The Senior Reserves draw is yet to be confirmed but is almost certain to feature 12 teams.

That will include two teams from Pioneer, and one each from Tuhirangi, Puketoi, Featherston, Martinborough, Greytown, Carterton, Gladstone, Marist, East Coast and Eketahuna.

They will play a full round-robin and then split into top four, middle four and bottom four for the playoffs.