While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Round 10 of the Bartercard Cup sees Glenora host Marist Richmond at Harold Moody Park, Northcote at home to the Central Falcons and Eastern Tornadoes play Manurewa Marlins at Moyle Park, all on Saturday.
On Sunday Canterbury make the trip to New Plymouth to play the Taranaki Wildcats, Hibiscus Coast are at home to Otahuhu in the match of the round and Mt Albert go down to Wellington to play the side from the capital.
Marist Richmond, in forth place on the ladder, should be too strong for Glenora. Although the Brothers have had some moixed results, their form of recent has shown that they have the ability to score tries from anywhere on the park. Both teams had their matches postponed last weekend due to a shortage of grounds following the weather "Bomb" that hit Auckland last week.
The enforced break should ensure that both teams are near to full strength for this one. Glenora's ability to battle on will ensure that if the Brothers do come out on top it won't be an easy win.
The Tigers match at Birkenhead will be there most important game of the year for them. Another loss will see them drop away from the top group of teams and make their job of qualifying for the semi-finals an up hill battle to say the least. Sitting in seventh place, two points off the top five, the Tigers character and desire to make 2002 a successful season is to be tested.
The Central Falcons are now starting to hit their straps. With a draw against Wellington in round 8, and a good win over Manurewa last week by 40 -24, the Falcons will have every reason to come to the North Shore with some confidence. The Tigers let themselves down badly last week when the gave up a handy half-time lead against Wellington to lose 20 - 28 after suffering some defensive lapses close to their line.
They will be hopeful of having Kenny McIntosh back on deck who will provide the leadership that was missing last week. One player to impress was young Damon Trott in the front row. He looks to be settling in well in this grade.
The Eastern Tornadoes have quietly slipped into second place, heading off the Raiders on percentage points. After such a successful season in 2001, the Marlins have been a little disappointing this year and will need to summon all their strength to be able to stop a Tornadoes outfit that is on a roll. The Tornadoes have strong running forwards who are thriving on hard work and are well directed by Jeremiah Pai at stand-of, while David Fisiiahi has been in top form in the centres.
The Taranaki Wildcats and Canterbury Bulls match will be a battle of the two teams presently lying at the foot of the table. The Bulls have slipped a long way down since they won the Cup in its inaugural year and it looks to me as if they'll remain in twelfth place after this one.
New to the competition this year, the Wildcats have shown plenty of promise. While often outplayed, they do manage to score some pretty good tries and they are certainly using this season to develop and gain experience.
I think they'd take this one narrowly in a hard fought encounter at Pukekura Park.
Mt Albert will be wary of the Wellington side who are capable of upsetting anyone on their day. However it would be a brave person to bet against the Lions at the present time. Mt Albert and Hibiscus Coast are the two teams who have best epitomized what the Bartercard Cup has set out to achieve.
Both teams have developed since stepping up from the Auckland Mad Butcher Fox Memorial onto the National platform. They have a professional approach and are well supported by their respective administration in establishing true franchises.
And they are able to offer their best players greater opportunities with a number contracted to the Warriors and with a couple of others who may be about to accept offers from other NRL clubs.
Mt Albert must be weary of becoming too confident as they recall only too well that they were at the lower end of the championship ladder last year.
They are now a quality side and I would expect them to come home with another two points on Sunday.
Hibiscus Coast finally return to Stanmore Bay on Sunday and it'll be a big match for them against Otahuhu. They were well beaten by Mt Albert two weeks ago but it was the size of the losing margin that shocked most of all.
They returned to some form last week but it will be interesting to see if they've returned to their best, which is where they'll need to be to get a win against the Leopards.
The Raiders strength is as much their teamwork as it is the individual brilliance of one or two of their players. It's the teamwork that must be there to carry on their winning way. They will then be able to get the best out of players such as the try- scoring machine Daniel Floyd.
Otahuhu have got their own scoring machine in Archie Ikihele who's having a great year. They've also got the experienced Boycie Nelson giving them direction in the backs while that are well lead in the forwards by Esau Mann from hooker.
This promises to be an exciting encounter and it might just be the home ground advantage that the Raiders will enjoy that carries the day for them.