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Playoff hopes beckon in final premier rugby rounds

With just three rounds to go before the semi-finals, the push to the playoffs of the Jubilee Cup and Hardham Cup premier men’s rugby contests intensifies this weekend. Several of Wellington’s leading contenders can starting thinking about the playoffs at the end of this month should they win tomorrow.

Poneke thrashed Tawa a fortnight ago to revive their season, with a Jubilee Cup bye last weekend. Five points adrift of the top four with a game to spare, they have a must-win game against Old Boys University on Saturday to stay in the hunt for the semi-finals. Poneke are a vastly different team from the one that lost 10-55 to OBU back in March with Greg Foe (No. 8) heading the best and fairest standings, and Pakai Turia in top form. OBU have won four on the trot and have a potent lineout rep, but are struggling with injuries.

Hutt Old Boys Marist blew an 18-34 lead to lose to Norths last Saturday, but are still five points clear of fifth place. A win over Marist St Pat’s, who have lost six of their last seven games, should all but secure the Eagles a spot in the semi-finals, even with a bye next Saturday. Key attacking backline player Chase Tiatia moves from fullback to second five-eighth for this clash.

Tawa won six games in a row to win the 2016 Jubilee Cup and need to repeat that run to triumph in 2018. A narrow 15-14 over MSP last weekend saw the return of Telea Seumanutafa, who scored a pivotal try. Sitiveni Paongo and Peniasi Tokakece return from injury for Tawa tomorrow. Tawa haven’t lost at home against Northern United since 2011, but were beaten 14-27 in the teams’ previous meeting. Norths have now won 12 in a row, have Jackson Garden-Bachop back at first five-eighth and appear to be the more threatening backline.

After a winless Swindale Shield, Johnsonville have surged back to be just one a win away from the Hardham Cup semi-finals with two rounds to spare. The Hawks were disciplined and aggressive last week, in their best display of the season with Waisea Yabakivou scoring two tries as they beat Avalon 33-15.  Wellington will hope to repeat their Swindale Shield victory and can combat Johnsonville’s forward pack dominance by playing at pace, with halfback Gareth Simpson a key player

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 before the loss to Wainuiomata last Saturday, forcing Jacob Gooch to start after he had played 80 minutes for the Premier Reserves. 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 Teariki Kie Tonga and Peni Taupau can get the visitors forwards rumbling this could be tricky for the third placed Villagers.

Upper Hutt will take a big step towards the semi-finals if they repeat their Swindale Shield win against Avalon. Upper Hutt railed from well behind to topple the Wellington Axemen last week with Josh Houston-Tupou scoring two tries. The Rams 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. Their earlier season promise has diminished though Chris Aumua has scored 12 of the Wolves’ 51 tries this season illustrating his considerable potential.

Oriental Rongotai and Wainuiomata have byes for the Jubilee and Hardham Cups respectively.

All games tomorrow, Saturday 7 July, start at 2.45pm.

Draw details at https://www.wrfu.co.nz/senior/draws-results/