10 March 2010

Post-season action has finally arrived for the Soffe Cup tennis competition.  After ten rounds of an extraordinarily close regular season, four teams have risen to the creme of the crop to earn a spot in this weekend's do-or-die semi final clashes.


First-placed Sanfords Manaia will host fourth-placed Central Finance Rotokare at the Manaia courts on Saturday.  The two previous matches played between these two went the way of Manaia on both occasions- Manaia beat Rotokare 9-7 as visitors in the first round, while they extended their winning advantage to 11-5 at home in the second meeting.  The scene is set, however for a terrific finals battle with both sides likely to be all but full strength.  For the South Taranaki side, Manaia will field a men's line-up that has proven the envy of the rest of the competition.  Cameron Koch will spearhead their men, followed closely by the fledgling talent of Jordan Fleming, and supplemented by the experience of Jason Mills, and Michael Gates.  Manaia's ladies line-up has been equally successful this season- Nicole Koch, Sarah Kelly, Maree Gopperth, and Grace Kelly have all been consistent performers. Manaia's Jacob Gopperth and Ginny Death remain the pair in doubt for this clash- both of whom have made not insignificant contributions to their team’s fortune so far this season.

Rotokare have been affected by injuries more than most this season- Ben Pollard, Chris Popata, and Greg Hareb are all class athletes that can not be easily replaced in one season.  Rotokare's incumbent men, however have done a sterling job to remedy the situation.  Blair Crowley, Kyle Crowley, Malcolm Elder have all stepped up to the mark when required and have been rewarded with their spots in this weekends match.  Rotokare will be praying for Mike Robert's participation at the top of the men's line-up- he is a 50-50 chance of recovering from a back injury which has curtailed his season in recent weeks.  Rotokare's women of Catherine Stevenson, Karen Cranston, Beccie Atkins, and Frances Gray have been the rock of their team this season.  They will be called upon yet again to lead the charge in pursuit of a hat trick of titles for the defending champions.

Given the topsy-turvy nature of this year's competition, neither the No.1 man's pairing nor have the No.1 women met each other this season.  Thus previous singles history is made slightly redundant as there will be new match-ups all-round for this one-off winner take-all encounter.  Suffice to say however Manaia will be extremely hard to beat on their home surface, especially as they thrive on these clutch situations.  Rotokare's chances lie in the quality of their doubles and combines play.  Manaia have led 5-3 and 6-2 after each bout of singles against Rotokare, and so Rotokare have had to play catch up in the remaining doubles.  Singles results count for little when it comes to doubles match-ups however so each side will be weary of the value of both the doubles and combines disciplines.


Second-placed AWE Huatoki will host third-placed Hareb Deken Oakura in the remaining Semi-Final at the Huatoki Tennis Club on Saturday.  This will be another tantalising tie as both matches previously this season have been every bit the epitome of a nail-biter.  Oakura won a see-sawing match 9-7 in the opening round of the season on 31 October 09- the combines proving the difference in that encounter. The second round result ended in an 8-8 draw just before Christmas last year, with both teams affected by a rep tournament on the same day.  Both teams will have the strongest sides they can reasonably muster at this time of the season however.  Huatoki may be without talismanic teenager Amrit Rai who will be captaining New Plymouth Boy’s High School in their annual Super 8 competition.  Oakura on the other hand will be without two of their most dependable team-mates- Josh Walden and Miaana Walden who will both be at University.

Huatoki will front with the following line-up of Jonathan Ussher, Neil Bridgeman, David Geange and David Innes for the men, although Rai remains an outside chance of playing.  Their women will be full strength with Saori Han, Alice Caskey, Chris Wilson, and Janice Taylor making a formidable combination.  Oakura will be more than their match with Graeme Mitchell, John Hardie Boys, Aaron Hine and Teihorangi Walden exhibiting a strong line-up.   

Sue Oldfield, Becky Bruckner, Shae Martin, and Chris Davies will make up their women's line-up. It would be an oxymoron to highlight any one match in a playoff match as that would insinuate that there must be a lowlight in a semi-final tie which can only reasonably showcase the best talent in a given competition.  That said the No.1 men's match between Huatoki's Jonathan Ussher and Graham Mitchell has every makings of a classic.  On the women's side Saori Han will have an arduous task to beat Sue Oldfield who appears to be hitting form at the right time of the season.  Han won their previous meeting 7-5 6-2 however which she will be keen to repeat.  Alice Caskey and Becky Bruckner's tie will be difficult to separate given both players' steady, level-headed approach.

Huatoki might have a slight edge in the women's singles which from their perspective will be eager to apply the heat in that area.  The men's singles could go either way.  Doubles and combines will inevitably come down to who handles the occasion better.  Oakura have had the decided advantage in the combines previously winning both ties 3-1 in that section.  The team combinations will be entirely different this time round, however which will make for an unknown quantity that simply adds to the intrigue of this tie.


The fifth-sixth placed match originally scheduled to be played between Tariki Icon Sports Pukekura and Stumble Inn Waiwaka has been defaulted to Pukekura by Waiwaka who were unable to field a side.