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The Central Otago champion side Cromwell Goats is having its depth of talent challenged as it prepares for the final qualifying match against the Maniototo Maggots at Ranfurly tomorrow.
Because the Goats are 11 points clear in the competition, and are on an 18-match winning streak, the outcome of tomorrow’s contest is largely irrelevant, but with the quarterfinals just a week away, the team’s management is battling to replace three of the squad’s standout performers.
Missing from the side that won the title in 2020 are midfielder Hayden Todd, now representing North Otago, No8 Asi Serukalou, recently injured in a car accident, and flanker Daniel Hurring, who suffered rib damage in the Topp Cup match last weekend.
Stefan Blakeborough, proven at lock, takes over at No8 while David Kanfonagu is promoted from the Cromwell Cavaliers side to fill the openside flanker’s jersey.
Manager Russell Decke said the team had precious few injury concerns in 2020 but is now having to prove it has depth.
“When you take three players of the quality of Hayden, Asi and Daniel out of a side, it becomes a challenge, but we have good depth,’’ he said.
The Goats have been averaging 45 points (and six tries) a game this season, but will find the Maggots formidable opponents at Ranfurly, where they last lost in 2017.
After a feeble start to the season, the Maggots have produced a series of quality performances, beating Matakanui Combined, Wakatipu (in a huge upset) and Alexandra in succession before holding Arrowtown to 8-0 in a muddy slug-fest at Jack Reid Park.
One of the fascinations of the day will be to see whether Ben Maxwell, the Goats’ captain and goalkicker, can bring up a century of points in seven games. Thanks to a haul of 26 points against Alexandra, his aggregate is now 90.
Maxwell was seldom goalkicker last season when fullback Kane Dodds was preferred, Dodds finishing the season with 97 points.
The Goats will be content to bank four competition points ahead of the play-offs at which their quarterfinal opponent will be Arrowtown.
Arrowtown is level on points with Maniototo but has a 53-point differential advantage and, as it is playing at home against struggling Matakanui Combined, nothing should change.
Wakatipu and Upper Clutha are second equal on 24 points and both are expected to win comfortably tomorrow, Wakatipu against the Cavaliers at Cromwell and Upper Clutha against Alexandra at Wanaka.
It is inconceivable the point standings will alter, meaning in next weekend’s quarterfinals team one (the Goats) will play team four (Arrowtown), team three (Upper Clutha) will take on team four (Wakatipu), team five (Maniototo) will be at home to team eight (the Cavaliers) and team six (Alexandra) will host team seven (Matakanui Combined).
- Bob Howitt