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The pace-setting Cromwell Goats team is chasing perfection when it takes on Maniototo in the Central Otago premier club championship at Anderson Park tomorrow.
The Goats lead the competition by nine points and have already secured the Vincent Shield as the top-ranking qualifying team.
The Goats have extracted the maximum five points from each of their six matches. Four tries and a win at Maniototo’s expense would give them a perfect 30 points going into the playoffs.
But it will not be easy against Maniototo, which after a sluggish start to the season — and a costly draw against Matakanui-Combined — pushed Wakatipu to the limit before knocking over Alexandra and, in a major upset, Arrowtown, a result that has almost certainly cost Arrowtown a home semifinal.
Goats manager Russell Decke paid tribute to the “refreshing attitude” of coaches Matt Brierley and Mike Cunningham for the team’s high-quality performances in 2020, which have netted 46 tries in six matches.
“No two training sessions are the same and that’s kept the team fresh,’’ he said.
“It’s essentially the same squad that’s been together since 2016. We’re in almost the identical spot we were 12 months ago — holding the White Horse Cup and top qualifier in the championship.
“Arrowtown spoiled our season in the grand final, so there’s room for improvement this year.”
Decke said the Goats were mindful Maniototo represents a major challenge before they focus on the semifinals.
“Never underestimate any team from Ranfurly — they play a good brand of rugby.”
Unless Maniototo pulls off another major upset — and even a five-pointer is unlikely to get it into the play-offs — the results tomorrow all appear highly predictable, as the top four teams are drawn against the bottom four.
Upper Clutha, now in second place, will do battle with Alexandra at Molyneux Park and should win comfortably.
Arrowtown takes on Matakanui-Combined at Omakau and, similarly, should cruise home. Even if it misses the bonus point, it will still finish ahead of Wakatipu, which plays the Cromwell Cavaliers in Queenstown. The Cavaliers have conceded an average of 49 points in their six outings.
The points standings going into this final round are: Cromwell Goats 30, Upper Clutha 21, Arrowtown 19, Wakatipu 18, Maniototo 17, Matakanui-Combined 11, Alexandra 5, Cromwell Cavaliers 1.
- Bob Howitt