The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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Round 13 of the Bartercard Cup being played this weekend could see Otahuhu move into second position outright on the points table.
At present, three teams share sixteen points, six behind competition leaders Mt Albert. Hibiscus Coast Raiders, Otahuhu Leopards and Eastern Tornadoes are separated only by for and against percentages with Wellington only one point further back in fifth place.
Otahuhu will be up against Taranaki wildcats at Henham Park on Sunday afternoon. While Taranaki are a pretty gutsy side the challenge for them here is to mix it with the Leopards big and powerful forward pack and restrict the ball from their slick backs. With the likes of George Carmont and Archie Ikihele in great trying scoring form and Esau Mann making big yards from dummy half this will be no easy task on the Leopards home track.
Hibiscus Coast have to travel to Porirua to take on the Wellington side who are moving back into some good form after suffering a bit of a slump during the middle of the season. The Raiders won this game in the first round and there was a bit of feeling in that match which is sure to emerge again on Sunday.
Based on recent form and with Wellington's renowned home ground advantage, the Raiders will go into this one as the underdogs.
They are presently finding it just a shade difficult reproducing the consistency that took them all the way last year. With a number of their strike players sustaining injuries throughout the season it has been difficult for coach Tony Benson to mold his side towards back to back championships. To me they look little way off last years form and with time rapidly running out the pressure is mounting.
The match of the round is on Saturday at Fowlds Park where Mt Albert Lions will play the Eastern Tornadoes.
The Tornadoes should pose a big threat to the John Ackland coached side. The problem they have is they allow the opponents too many scoring opportunities and their defensive efforts have seen them give up 326 points so far, 100 points more than the Lions have conceded. The Tornadoes will find it a lot harder scoring points against this Lions side in their current form and that could mean losing some composure on the park. If that does eventuate Mt Albert will be sure to capitalize.
Both sides will be strong up front and will be sure to give each other a bit of a touch up throughout the game.
I think the Tornadoes let themselves down a bit by not keeping up the pressure for the full eighty minutes. A couple of weeks ago they looked to have the game won against Northcote but eased off and saw a handy lead disappear in quick time along with the two championship points that were on offer.
The Lions will be just a little to disciplined and well organised for the Tornadoes and should win what promises to be a highly entertaining and exciting game between two very good sides.
Also on Saturday Marist Richmond play Canterbury Bulls at Grey Lynn Park.
While Marist Richmond took a bit of a thumping from Wellington last week, they should be too good for a struggling Bulls side. I sometimes wonder if Marist Richmond know how good they can be.
The Brothers had a golden period against Mt Albert in their game two weeks ago when they played some dazzling football for a while and shot out to what should have been an unattainable lead only to go back into their shells. Can they sustain that standard of play for the full 80 minutes?
Fitness seems to be a factor for them and they'll need to step up their work in that area in coming weeks or else they will be facing another season of what if's. With the table suffering a bottle neck at the top there is still every opportunity for the Brothers to squeeze in for their first finals series.
Glenora travel to Levin Domain to play the Central Falcons. If they maintain the form that they showed at Ericsson Stadium last week they could well add another two points to their total as well.
The Bears are an improving side and look a better team with Edwards at fullback kicking goals from all over the field and a rampaging Lauaki in the second row.
The Falcons are game but are finding their first year in this competition a ittle tough on away matches. At home the Flacons have managed to gain a the scalps of Taranaki, Wellington draw and Manurewa in consecutive weeks, a win here isn't out of the question.
The game with the most interest on Sunday is at Birkenhead Memorial Park where Northcote play Manurewa Marlins. The Marlins have come alive at last and will be keen to achieve back to back victories after their winning performance against the Raiders last week taking their winning streak to three on the trott.
It will be the forwards that have to lay the ground work as usual and they have yet to prove that they can play to a consistent standard. A positive for the Marlins is the growth of confidence from young half Jesse Ioapo, in his first year of the Bartercard Cup he is providing an attacking option that compliments that of his partner in the halves Scott Welsh who has a wealth of experience.
For the Tigers, they'll also be keen to return to winning form after a poor second half performance against the Bears last Sunday.
The Tigers have revealed another young player with immense potential in alfback Carlos Mataora. He was elusive in attack and tireless in defence against the Bears but his team mates weren't able to emulate his performance for the full 80 minutes.
Out wide the Tigers have some real power in Lamond Copestake, Harry Aonga and Guy MacPherson and some pace in Tane Taitoko. The Tigers will be looking to utilise their prowess set up plays to utilise their talent in this match.
Everyone knows how devastating Copestake can be.
Returning to Birkenhead might be just the tonic for this side and should give them a clear advantage.