By WALT DICKSON
Joe Harwood knows a thing or two about close quarter combat.
Uncompromising in his playing days the former hooker led Wairarapa-Bush to the Meads Cup title in the inaugural Heartland Championship in 2006.
In the same year he also captained his Carterton club side to the Wairarapa-Bush senior-A club title.
It’s not surprising then that he is picking Saturday’s Tui Cup semi-final against Gladstone will be won up front.
As a player he knew where the big games were decided. The question is, as a coach can he instil that mentality in his players?
The competition has produced some interesting results in recent weeks. What has been most notable is the rise of Gladstone having won four games on the trot, each effectively a sudden death match.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed with Harwood.
“Gladstone is one of those sides who always know how to perform at the right end of the season, so it is going to be a good old battle,” he says.
And that battle begins – and ends – up front.
“You’ve got two options, you either stand back and let them come at you or you decide to take it them as well, so it should be a good battle that’s for sure.”
Since winning the round Moose Kapene Cup Harwood is the first to admit the second half of the season has been tough going.
Injuries to key players have not helped Carterton’s cause, however barring anything going askew at training this week, Harwood reckons they will be able field a full strength squad, the first since the end of round one.
Speedster Corey McFadzean, who has missed much of the second round, played against Eketahuna last weekend as did first-five eighth Jono Hurley. Both McFadzean and Hurley were missing from Carterton’s narrow – and lucky – win over Marist the previous weekend.
Arguably one of the key players will be the versatile Andy Humberstone who has to date had a stellar season.
But in order to show his tricks, first Carterton will have do the business up front.
“The whole thing comes back to ruck intensity and set pieces. That is where the battle is going to be decided.”
Gladstone have some top class forwards, such as Andrew McLean and Richard Puddy, but overall there is little difference between the two packs, Harwood says.
“Traditionally, I suppose they [Gladstone] have always been a forward dominated team that knows how to get on the front foot and take the break down areas,a so if we don’t compete there then we are going to struggle.”
Carterton vs Gladstone , @Carterton
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Pioneer v Marist, @Jean Street
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