The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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This weekend sees seven teams in the Bartercard Cup wind up their season while the top five qualifying teams head into the finals series with the grand final to be played on the 16th of September.
Mt Albert Lions, Hibiscus Coast Raiders and the Eastern Tornadoes have secured three positions, while the final two positions won't be confirmed until Sunday afternoon. This isn't to say that the order is set.
Otahuhu and Wellington are favoured to take these two positions but Marist Richmond is knocking on the door. And the final round couldn't have been set up any better with Otahuhu and Wellington meeting on Sunday afternoon at Ericsson Stadium. A win to Otahuhu would see them moving up to third place in place of Eastern.
Wellington would then be looking at their points for and against as they would remain on 19 competition points. Providing Marist Richmond wins their game against Taranaki, as they will be favoured to do, then they too will move up to the same points.
Points for and against will then come in to play. Wellington did themselves a big favour last week with their 82 - 18 win over Taranaki and it would take a similar result from Marist Richmond to overtake Wellington on points difference.
Should Wellington win against Otahuhu, then the team from the capital will move into third spot ahead of the loser of the Hibiscus Coast versus Eastern match.
It will be an intriguing time. Otahuhu have been looking good over recent weeks and are strong side but they've dropped their last two games, against Marist Richmond and Eastern respectively.
Wellington have looked great at home but their away form hasn't been quite as good. They scored fifteen tries last weekend, including four to ex union representative player Darren Kapene. Otahuhu look good, at times dominating their opponents, but don't seem to kick on when they need to.
Playing at Ericsson will favour the Leopards, where they should enjoy some strong spectator support, and are the most likely winners.
That'll then give Marist Richmond the opportunity to sneak passed the Wellingtonian's but it will take a victory of 60 plus points to do so. No doubt the Taranaki Wildcats will want to go out on a high note themselves and it's unlikely that they'll succumb as easily as they did last week at home. So it's odds on that Wellington will sneak in and that'll do the game in Wellington no end of good.
Mt Albert as minor premiers completes their final preparations for the finals when they travel across the bridge to play Northcote at Birkenhead. Northcote have done well this year given the number of player shifts and will finish up in seventh place. They've been there or thereabouts for most of the season but have managed to drop some crucial games at times and will end up in much the same position as last year. However they've uncovered some good players and if they've learnt from the experience they'll be sure pose a threat next season.
Mt Albert have been the most consistent team throughout the year and are deserved winners of the minor premiership. They will have some of their front line players back on deck on Saturday and will finish the round with another win.
Much interest also surrounds the game at Stanmore Bay where Hibiscus Coast play Eastern Tornadoes. The result of this one will determine who finishes in second place. These two sides play different styles of football but are stacked with skilled players across the park.
The Raiders will need to maintain their discipline in this one as they can ill-afford to lose a player as they did last week against the Tigers. The Tornadoes will be a different story and will be quick to exploit any weaknesses that the Raiders might have.
The home ground advantage plays a role in these games and the Raiders have a proud home record which they will be favoured to maintain this week. In saying that, the Tornadoes will be no easy beats and the locals will need to be at their best to take out the points.
Manurewa, who were upset by Canterbury last week, play the Glenora Bears. All that rests on this game is who will finish in 9th and 10th place, last of the eight Auckland Teams. If Glenora have their injured players back then they look to me to be the most likely winners.
The final game sees Central at home to Canterbury. The Bulls have finally found some form late in the season but they may not travel so well. It just may be that the Falcons get one more win and move up to tenth place.
This season, the third for the Bartercard Cup, has seen further improvement of the standard of football being played at the top level. The players skills have also shown improvement and it's easy to see that in the coming years it's only the committed players and coaching staff that will succeed at this level.
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