SUNDAY SPECIALS | Two tight tussles for NRL Sunday - Melbourne Storm and Canberra Raiders flexing th...
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Round 7 of the Bartercard Cup sees another split round being played over the next two weekends with three games in each.
The feature match on Sunday is at Ericsson Stadium when Northcote Tigers play Otahuhu Leopards at 2.30 p.m.
Both sides are sitting on six championship points with three wins and three losses each.
And they both come off losses last weekend. However it was the Leopards who had the most meritorious result in gong down by 28 - 35 to competition leaders Mt Albert.
This was a game where for most of it the two teams were evenly matched. While Mt Albert got away a little from their opponents in the second half the Leopards fought well to get the score back to a six point difference until Ben Lythe made the game secure with a field goal. The Lions can thank Keneti Asiata for a fine performance on his return from injury and it was his effort that was probably the difference between the two sides.
On the other hand Northcote would be feeling a little disappointed with their effort against Marist/Richmond. Not playing out their sets of six was a major reason for their ordinary performance and just a few too many defensive lapses allowed Marist to score some easy tries.
The return of their experienced front rower, Karl Benson, and the signing of 2000 Auckland Warrior, Mat Spence, have strengthened the Tigers. Both had fine games last week, albeit for a couple of handling lapses, and no doubt they'll get better as they get match fit over the next few weeks.
It will be up to the rest of the forward pack to back these two up, particularly against the Leopards who are very strong up front.
The Tigers have some great attacking backs in Lamond Copestake and Kamahl Ganley but last week they saw too little good ball to be effective. This week they'll need to play to their strengths if they are to have any chance in defeating the Leopards.
Otahuhu have got a very good points for record and will be all out to score tries from anywhere on the paddock. Their defensive effort isn't quite so good and this is where they'll need to concentrate to deny the Tigers any scoring opportunities.
Present form suggests that the Leopards will be slight favourites to take this one out.
Taranaki Wildcats take the trip to Palmerston North, also on Sunday, to play the Central Falcons.
The Wildcats are fresh from their upset win against Hibiscus Coast last week and will be full of confidence going into this match against the Falcons who have yet to win a game.
What a fantastic effort for the Taranaki side to role the defending champions. The result was quite emphatic, scoring six tries and leading by 18 - 4 at the break. One of the strengths of the Raiders is the way they can come back in the second spell, outscoring and outsmarting their opponents. Not so last Sunday.
For the Wildcats they'll need to make sure that they have moved on from that game and are totally focused on the one ahead or else that could follow so many teams who have had an upset one week, only to be upset themselves the following one.
The Falcons are still finding their feet at this level. This, though, would certainly have been a game coach John Lomax would have been targeting at the beginning of the season as a must win.
However it's the Wildcats who have developed a little quicker than the Falcons as both teams take part in the National competition for the first time. The fact though that the Falcons have the hometown advantage could be just the thing that brings the sides closer together. While I'm sure it's likely to be an exciting encounter I'm predicting that the Wildcats will be just a little too good on the day.
The third game of the weekend sees Eastern Manukau Tornadoes travel to Wellington to take on the locals at the Hutt Rec, ground, also on Sunday. Wellington's game has gone off a little over recent weeks and they suffered their third consecutive loss last week, this time to Manurewa.
And once again they gave their opposition too much of a start. Down by 6 - 24 after the first forty minutes they managed a much better second spell only to lose the game by 38 - 34.
This weekend, against the Tornadoes, they can ill-afford to be so generous as it's unlikely that they'll be allowed to come back so well. The Tornadoes are getting into some good form now and with players such as David Fisiiahi and Jeremiah Pai as well as the return of Phillip Leuluai, they pose a real danger and look likely to cement their position in the top four.
However at home the Wellington team are generally a much tougher side than when on the road and can't be discounted from rediscovering their early season form and giving the Tornadoes something to worry about.
Going with the hometown advantage is the Wellington weather. With winter looking to be well and truly upon us, the Tornadoes will have to be wary of the wind and the colder temperature, something that the capital dishes up with monotonous regularity whenever an Auckland team visits.
If an upset is on the cards this week this game might just be the one.
In saying that, Wellington won't be looking at it from that point of view. They'll be going into this one with the expectation that they're going to win, just as they did a few weeks ago when they defeated Otahuhu at the Westpac Trust Stadium.
Next week sees Marist/Richmond versus Manurewa, Canterbury against Mt Albert and Hibiscus Coast playing Glenora.