Playoff places beckon with three weeks to play in regular season

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There are just three rounds to go before the semi-finals and the push to the playoffs starts this weekend.  Several of the leading contenders in the Jubilee and Hardham Cups can starting thinking about the playoffs at the end of this month should they win tomorrow. 

A look at the six matches in the top grade is below, with Oriental Rongotai (Jubilee Cup) and Wainuiomata (Hardham Cup) being the two sides with the Jubilee and Hardham Cup byes this weekend.

The third round of the Women’s Tia Paasi Memorial Division 1 and Izzy Ford Division 2 competition kicked off on Wednesday night with Petone beating Marist St Pat’s 63-0 to register a key win in a top tier fixture.

Games tomorrow see Paremata-Plimmerton host Norths in Division 1 and OBU and Avalon and HOBM and Poneke meet in Division 2. Last year’s champions Ories have the bye along with their top two men’s teams. 

With runaway second round Premier Reserve Ed Chaney Cup leaders Ories sidelined this weekend, the feature match is between first round winners Marist St Pat’s and Hutt Old Boys Marist, both with two wins from four. 

Both Petone and Johnsonville can keep their unbeaten runs alive in the Premier Reserve HD Morgan Trophy if they beat Paremata-Plimmerton and Wellington respectively. 

The Les Mills Division 1 Colts match last weekend between OBU and MSP was called off for an altercation and both teams subsequently docked two points. This has given the unbeaten Northern United Colts a jump on the field with a 6-point lead at the top of the standings to second placed HOBM Green, whom they meet at the Hutt Rec in tomorrow’s feature John E Kelly Cup match. OBU play Tawa and MSP play the Upper Hutt Rams, while Petone and Paremata-Plimmerton contest the fourth match.

The second round of the U85kg competition sees the teams split into two divisions, with the top six playing for the Paul Potiki Shield and the bottom six contesting the Tony O'Brien Shield. Convincing first round winners the The Avalon Wolves start their second round campaign at home against Eastbourne.

 

Jubilee Cup and Hardham Cups: 

Poneke v Old Boys University 
Venue: Kilbirnie Park
Referee: Richard Gordon

Poneke had the bye last week after thrashing Tawa a week earlier to revive their season. Five points adrift of the top four with a game to spare, Poneke must win to stay in the hunt for the semi-finals.

Poneke are a vastly different team from that which lost 10-55 to OBU on March 17. No. 8 Greg Foe heads the best and fairest standings, Pakai Turia is in imperious form and Michael Sage remains a genuine threat from fullback. Hurricanes halfback Finlay Christie is a further ace up their sleeve for this match.

OBU might have won four on the trot, but have also had an injury crisis and Will Mangos has been playing centre. He is listed to play lock tomorrow, alongside Argentinian Agustin Escalona. 

If Poneke are worthy of the final four they must take their chance and beat the stretched Billy Goats. The OBU lineout remains a potent weapon and could give them a key edge.

 

Hutt Old Boys Marist v Marist St Pat’s
Venue: Hutt Rec
Referee: Daniel Mangin

In the Swindale Shield, MSP ended the Eagles’ seven game winning streak to start 2018. It's been downhill for the scarlets since - dropping six of their last seven games. 

With a bye next Saturday and five points clear of fifth place, the Eagles will be determined to win to all-but secure their spot in the semi-finals.

HOBM blew a 18-34 lead to lose to Norths last Saturday. The Eagles will be hopeful Tasi Fidow and Sheridan Rangihuna maintain their damaging form from that encounter and HOBM sustain their excellence for 80 minutes. Key attacking backline player Chase Tiatia moves from fullback to second five-eighth for this clash. 

Isaia Petelo has scored ten tries for MSP this season while former Wellington Under-19 prop Ivan Fepuleai has returned to the roster and an old face returns to the reserves bench in lock Lua Lokotui who played his last match four years ago. 

 

Tawa v Northern United
Venue: Lyndhurst Park
Referee: Nick Hogan

In 2016, Tawa won six games in a row to win the Jubilee Cup. A similar run is required for a repeat triumph in 2018. 

Tawa edged MSP 15-14 seven days ago, welcoming back Telea Seumanutafa who scored a pivotal try. Sitiveni Paongo and Peniasi Tokakece also return from injury for Tawa for this one tomorrow.

Tawa were well beaten 14-27 in their previous meeting against Norths, who have now won 12 in a row. 

Norths have been riding their luck lately reversing a 16 point deficit against the Eagles. Faifili Levave was in vintage form scoring two tries. Norths have Jackson Garden-Bachop back at first five-eighth and appear to be the more threatening backline. 

Tawa haven't lost at home against Norths since 2011. 

Will Tawa’s desperation be enough?

 

Wellington v Johnsonville
Venue: Hataitai Park
Referee: Steve Newson

After a winless Swindale Shield who would have thought Johnsonville are a win away from the Hardham Cup semi-finals with two rounds to spare.

Waisea Yabakivou scored another two tries as the Hawks thrashed Avalon 33-15. Johnsonville were disciplined and aggressive in their best display of the season. Johnsonville are missing Kane Thompson who has returned to Taranaki and Api Naikatini who is injured this week. 

Wellington are two points shy of fifth and will take heart from their Swindale Shield victory against Johnsonville.

The Axemen don't boast the size in the forwards of Johnsonville so will look to play at pace with halfback Gareth Simpson a key player in getting their game going. 

 

Petone v Paremata-Plimmerton
Venue: Petone Rec
Referee: Colin Te Pohe 

Petone beat Paremata-Plimmerton 55-0 in the Swindale Shield, but have hit the wall with injuries. Jack Ross and Jared Kahu were scratched moments prior to the loss to Wainuiomata last Saturday, forcing Jacob Gooch to start after he had played 80 minutes for the Premier Reserves. In positive news, Petone welcome back prop Kaliopasi Uluilakepa and locks James Blackwell and Murray Douglas. 

Paremata-Plimmerton haven’t won in the Hardham Cup, but were robbed against Wellington and have a faint shot of the semi-finals with three rounds to play.

If regulars Teariki Kie Tonga and Peni Taupau can get the visitors forwards rumbling this could be tricky for the third placed Villagers.

Tupou Sopoaga has scored 10 tries for Petone this season.

 

Avalon Wolves v Upper Hutt Rams
Venue: Fraser Park
Referee: Mike Pinfold

The Rams will take a big step towards the semi-finals by repeating their Swindale Shield win against the Wolves. 

Upper Hutt railed from well behind to topple the Axeman last week with Josh Houston-Tupou scoring two tries. Upper Hutt are more settled than they have been for weeks and have the ability to score plenty of points.

Avalon have lost four in a row. The earlier season promise has diminished though Chris Aumua has scored 12 of Avalon's 51 tries this season illustrating his considerable potential.