Battle for Tui Cup begins
A repeat of the 2018 Tui Cup final is the perfect way to kick off the Wairarapa-Bush premier rugby season today, writes Times-Age sportswriter, Chris Cogdale.
Carterton v Gladstone – Carterton
[Referee: Rebecca Mahoney]
Hats off to Wairarapa-Bush for scheduling a blockbuster between two of the province’s fiercest rivals, which also doubles as a rerun of the 2018 final won convincingly by Gladstone 32-10.
Gladstone come into the season with a settled squad determined to push for a rare three-peat of championship titles.
However, Carterton have lost their three English imports, Connor Baker, Isaac Dalton, and Nick Mason, as well as promising halfback Isaac Bracewell, who is trying his luck in Wellington.
They will also be missing combative loose forward Brock Price for the first few weeks.
Ex-Newcastle Falcons professional Brent Wilson will add plenty of experience at lock or in the loose forward trio.
Gladstone will be at full strength.
Carterton coach Chris Senior is aware of the challenge. “Gladstone are always a class bunch of guys, they’ve been there, done that – so, it will be tough,” he said.
Greytown v Eketahuna – Greytown
This is probably the most intriguing game of the first round.
The teams couldn’t have had more contrasting build-ups.
Greytown have lost several players from the 2018 team who made the Tui Cup semifinals.
However, that has been balanced with some useful recruits, including two players who plied their trade in Wellington last season – lock-loose forward Jonty Miller [Poneke] and midfield back Usoalii Samuel [Paremata-Plimmerton].
Eketahuna could be the big movers, having strengthened their squad after a disappointing seventh season.
They will field a powerful forward pack with the inclusion of Wairarapa-Bush prop Max Tufuga and Regan Pope from Greytown.
The performance of the new halves combination of Lee Thompson [Palmerston North] and former Wairarapa College pupil Josh Pepperell will also attract interest.
East Coast v Martinborough – Whareama
A team hit with early-season injury worries come up against a team who have been struggling to get numbers to training.
That’s the story of the clash between the ‘Coasties’ and ‘Marty’.
Much of East Coast’s game centres on their abrasive loose forward trio led by Joe Feast and Jeff Meredith. However, gaining parity with a Martinborough forward pack made up of good club players, may be a tough ask with regular props Terry Norman and Hayden Kerr sidelined with serious injuries.
Martinborough should have the edge in the backs with the experienced Tipi Haira and Tim Priest to control play, while former Wairarapa-Bush winger Nathan Hunt adds finishing prowess
Masterton Red Star v Marist – Colombo Road No 2
Going on last season’s form, Marist would win this in a canter. They will still start the warmest of favourites though.
Masterton Red Star coach Dave Maugatai has said the team will be more competitive this season.
The return of brothers Karl and Cody Thompson adds much-needed starch to the forwards, and although the pack is small, Maugatai is hopeful that they will be a match for most teams.
On the other hand, Marist come into the game confident of starting on a winning note. Their forward pack should gain more than their fair share of possession, giving their talented backs plenty of ball to work with.
The Senior Reserve competition, also starting today, has been reduced to an 11-team competition after the late withdrawal of one of the Pioneer teams.
Opening round draw [all games at 1pm]
Carterton v Martinborough, Carterton;
Greytown v Puketoi, Greytown;
Pioneer Old Boys v Marist, Memorial Park No 1;
Gladstone v Featherston, Gladstone;
Eketahuna v Tuhirangi, Eketahuna.