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Top four keeping it tight

TOUCHDOWN: Malatai Malatai was back to his best in running in a hat-trick last week against Martinborough. PHOTO/CHRIS KILFORD
TOUCHDOWN: Malatai Malatai was back to his best in running in a hat-trick last week against Martinborough. PHOTO/CHRIS KILFORD

A TIGHT battle is developing in the race for the top spots in the Wairarapa-Bush Tui Cup senior club rugby championship.

Only five points separate the leading teams, Greytown and Marist, and the fourth-placed Gladstone. A clear gap has developed between the top four and bottom four, with Martinborough the best of the rest nine points behind Gladstone.

Although there’s a long way to go before home advantage for the semifinals is decided, any slip-up could prove costly, even at this early stage.

One of those vital games is at Jeans Street, where Pioneer are at home to Marist in what is likely to be another feisty local derby.

The teams come into the match on the back of differing performances last weekend. Pioneer left it until late to beat Carterton, while Marist had a comfortable bonus point victory away to Martinborough.

The big question is can the Marist forwards get parity with the big Pioneer forward pack? Marist haven’t always looked solid at scrum-time, and Pioneer could have a decided edge.

Likewise in the loose, where the impressive Rima Mururai is starting to show glimpses of his best form after returning from injury. If the Marist forwards can deliver good quality ball, they have the backline to create havoc, with the likes of the ever dangerous Malatai Malatai, who was back to his best in running in a hat-trick last week, and centre Mickey Te Whare, who showed some deft touches.

Also look to the talented James Goodger, whether he plays at lock or loose forward, to fully test the Pioneer defence with his skill and pace.

Prediction: Pretty similar to the first round, which went the way of Marist 17-13. Marist’s backs to shine in a narrow victory.

-Gladstone can go a long way to securing their top four spot with a victory over Carterton, who desperately need a win to keep their slim top four hopes alive.

Gladdy are nearing full strength, with lock Andrew McLean and wing Cameron Hayton returning from injury for last Saturday’s easy win over East Coast.

Carterton have shown steady improvement throughout the season, and could be considered a little unlucky in their last-minute loss to Pioneer.

Gladstone have impressed at times this season, then only to disappoint in the next match. They do have the forwards to dominate, with the return of McLean a big plus, and Richard Puddy making a fine fist of things since moving from hooker to the openside.

Carterton also have plenty of experience with the likes of the McFadzean brothers, John and Cory, to fully test the home side.

If there is an edge, it could be in the backs where Inia Katia will take advantage of any small gap the Carterton defence gives him.

Their first round encounter was won 19-11 by Gladstone.

Prediction: At home Gladstone are mighty hard to roll. Gladdy 12 under.

-It’s also nearing desperation time for Martinborough, who are at home to Greytown.

The green and blacks started the season slowly and had shown some good form until last Saturday’s heavy loss to Marist. Much depends on the availability of gun first-five Tim Priest, who left the field with what he described as a “minor shoulder injury”. Martinborough rely heavily on his cool head and experience and, if he is out for tomorrow’s match, it will be a big loss.

Greytown have also been plagued by injuries, but they have shown typical guts and determination to eke out their victories.

They should gain an advantage and give their talented backline plenty of quality ball to utilise.

Prediction: Greytown to take a bonus point victory.

-It seems way too early to state that two teams are playing for pride but that certainly seems to be the case in the East Coast v Eketahuna match.

Both teams have struggled for numbers, and who turns out is a week-to-week proposition.

Eketahuna’s only win came in their first round encounter and East Coast’s only point came in the same fixture.

Prediction: It is Old Timers’ Day at Whareama, and that may be enough to spur on the Coasters to their first win of the season.

-Points at the completion of the Moose Kapene Cup:

Greytown and Marist 28, Pioneer 25, Gladstone 23, Martinborough 14, Carterton 11, Eketahuna 7, East Coast 1.

By Chris Cogdale – Wairarapa Times-Age

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