By WALT DICKSON
“Both Gladstone and Carterton will have scores to settle when they meet in Saturday’s Tui Cup semi-final.”
For Gladdy it will be a case of unfinished business after coming up short against Carterton in the play-offs 12-months ago, a match they should’ve won.
Carterton on the other hand will be hoping to make it third time lucky having twice been beaten, 14-23, in previous encounters this season.
On both occasions Chris Senior’s side was guilty of leaving plenty of points out there.
“If we are going to win this, we need to use our chances, get into the game early and lead going into the last quarter, instead of the other way around.”
Sounds easy enough, but Gladstone are top qualifiers, dropping only two games in 2017.
The underdog status sits nicely with Senior, putting all the pressure on Gladstone to live up to their top billing.
“There is no pressure on us, we’ve got nothing to lose,” he says.
Gladstone coach Steve Thompson says the pressure will be split both ways, with past results this season counting for nothing in a semi-final. Besides, the memory of last year’s knock-out game against the old foe still sits uncomfortably with him.
Gladstone has clearly learnt from those mistakes, having been far more clinical when scoring opportunities present.
Under water last weekend, their home ground will be boggy and heavy under-foot, conditions that the likes of experienced campaigners John Stevenson (prop) and Richard Puddy (hooker) will revel in. But the real torque in this engine is at lock with Andrew McLean and Andrew Smith.
Belying his build, first-five eighth Brad Griffith has been a pillar of strength in the backs. How the young pivot handles the pressure could be key to deciding the result.
With “quite a young team” Carterton has been building steadily throughout the season. Their 11-try thrashing of Marist last weekend is a strong indication that they are hitting their straps just when it matters. But let’s not forget the Marist demolition was on the artificial turf, and Gladdy’s muddy track won’t be conducive to playing running rugby.
Anchored by Jacko Hull, Carterton have a rock-solid front row, but Gladstone probably the better second row with the back three pretty evenly matched.
Half-back Daryl Pickering will play a big role. Outside Jono Hurley, the midfield combination of Utah Walker and Lance Stevenson could also be a handful for Gladstone, with Walker in particular, playing good footy in recent weeks.