Dunedin premier club rugby preview

The club cricket season finished four days ago so it is now time to switch to club rugby. The first games are played tomorrow night and it rolls on until July. The Otago Daily Times looks at the 10 teams for this season.


Last year: Champion
Coach: Rahul Das (second year), Shane Flanaghan (assistant)
Forwards: Sam Sturgess, Tom Hardy, Callum Hardie, Angus Williams, Tom Stevens, Jake Maiono, Josh Dickson, Jack Sherrat, Max Hunt, Dale Jarden, Nick O’Connell, Ben Crosby, Jack Wolfreys, Dillon Hunt, Damien Scott, Sione Teu.
Backs: Kaide Whiting, Dan Crowley, Fletcher Smith, Stephen Fenemor, Shae Tucker, Mike Williams, Tim Murgatroyd, Gavin Stark, Sam McLachlan, Sam Aitken, Ricci Persico, Fa’asiu Fuatai, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Matt Faddes, Taylor Haugh.

Midfielder Matt Faddes might be a little bit busy with the Highlanders but otherwise University is looking every bit as dangerous as last year.

It is hard to spot a weakness in the defending champion. The students have an excellent loose forward trio in Dillon Hunt, Jack Wolfreys and Sione Teu.

Athletic Otago lock Josh Dickson is a reliable target in the lineout for returning hooker and captain Sam Sturgess. First five-eighth Fletcher Smith seems to have a little bit more time than most of the other pivots on the club scene and there is pace out wide with the likes of Gavin Stark. Shae Tucker had a strong year at second five-eighth and centre Fa’asiu Fuatai will look to break the line whenever he can.

University has also picked up exciting New Zealand schools centre Thomas Umaga-Jensen, although he is under an injury cloud. Locks Angus Cameron and Hamish Walker have moved on but Jack Sherrat has returned from injury. – Adrian Seconi


Last year: Beaten finalist
Coach: Erik Vaafusuaga (second year), Murray Roulston (assistant)
Backs: Matt Ellis, Kurt Hammer, Jack Stewart, Brodie Flannery, Josh Casey, Hayden Parker, Kori Rupene, Michael Collins, Matt Whaanga, Vinnie Boomin, Ben Miller, Shannon Young, Glen Beadle, Christian Kelly, Mitchell Scott, Connor Fifita, Marc Rooney
Forwards: Aki Seiuli, Ethan Harrex, Joseph Laban, Craig Kippenburger, Nick Gee, Josh Turnbull, Josh Reid, Karl Still, Braden Jane, Brendon Murdoch, Matt Davidson, Vinnie O’Connell, Willis Scott , Brodie Hume, Riley McDowall, Grayson Kite, Jordie Bungard, James Lentjes, Liam Squire.

Taieri has lost a bit of its heart and soul with the retirement of hard-running No 8 Charlie O’Connell and also experienced lock Kurt Webster. “Charlie does leave a big gap,” coach Erik Vaafusuaga said. “His leadership on and off the field is going to be missed. It is a hole that we are going to have to plug.” The team will have to make do without the services of first five-eighth Josh Casey and midfielder Michael Collins for the first round. Casey scored a record 300 points last season but is playing rugby in Spain, while Collins is in Wales playing for Llanelli.

Front-rower Nick McLennan and lock Josh Larson have moved out of the city.

The Eels may get the use of pivot Hayden Parker and flanker James Lentjes if they are not needed by the Highlanders. Tasman winger Mitchell Scott has come down to join his brother, flanker Willis Scott.

Willis Scott will assume the captaincy and he has a pretty good pack around him. Otago prop Aki Seiuli is a dangerous ball runner, while Matt Davidson shapes as the main lineout target.

Ben Miller will get an opportunity in the midfield in Collins’ absence and Kori Rupene has an eye for the try line. – Adrian Seconi


Last year: Beaten semifinalist
Coach: Hale T-Pole replaces Marty Hurring, Gareth Waldron (assistant)
Backs: Tala McDenda, Vinnie Isherwood, Keegan Simpson, Joe Collins, Seilala Mapusua, Sam Porter, Nathan Greer, Sio Tomkinson, Ewan Brumwell, Aleki Morris, Soane Amato, Jamie Angus, Jerome Harimate, Reece Ma’u, Sala Halaleva, Nick Corban, Dylan Brown, Marcus Schaaf, Joe Boswell, Loa Lihau, Logan Allen
Forwards: Sekonaia Pole, Pete Mirrielees, George Bower, Luke Moeke, Aiden Spence, Siua Halanukonuka, Morgan Buchanan, Cam Angus, Sione Misiloi, James Piho, Tim Medder, James Tomkinson, Naulia Dawai, Steve Butler, Luke Densam, Charles Elton, Ben Whale, Billy Brown, Nick Hagerty, Hayden Cleghorn, Jordan Dean

Harbour’s bruising forward pack has taken a hit during the off season with loose forwards Hadleigh May and Soloman T-Pole and lock Elioti Tonga moving on. Tonga has transferrred to Southern. T-Pole has moved to Japan and May is back in Waikato.

Despite those departures, the Hawks still have plenty of muscle up front. Otago hooker Sekonaia Pole and hard-hitting loose forward Naulia Dawai impressed last season. Charles Elton and Ben Whale are reliable performers, while James Tomkinson is set to start the season on the openside.

Halfback Tala Fagasoaia is deadly around the edges of the ruck and one of the best in his position in the competition.

Centre Aleki Morris calls the shots in the backline and he has some pace outside him in speedy winger Lisala Halaleva. Fullback Logan Allen was solid last year and expect him to have more impact this season.

Where exactly Otago utility back Sio Tomkinson plays in the backline is up for negotiation.

New coach Hale T-Pole would like to see him at second five-eighth but will work with Otago rugby. – Steve Hepburn


Last year: Beaten semifinalist
Coach: Colin Tuaine (3rd season) Dion Lobb (assistant)
Ben Leggat, Bryce Hosie, Caleb Mitchell, Hemaua Samasoni, Jono Hayes, Josh Ioane, Josh Walden, Michael Blanks, Piliu Tavake, Rema Smith, Sean Clementson, Wilson Driver.
Forwards: Adam Knight, Andrew Sanders, Alex Hohneck, Cameron Keech, Eli Tonga, Ethan Perrett, Joe Weatherall, Junior Sala, Michael Mata’afa, Mika Mafi, Ryan Thompson, Simon Knight, Tom Scanlan.

The Magpies have gone eight years without winning the banner but shape as one of the frontrunners. The core of the squad is back and the club has enticed two promising players from Otago Boys’ High School.

Powerful centre Hemaua Samasoni and fullback Josh Buchan have thrown their kit in with Southern. Hard-working flanker and club player of the year Adam Knight will take over the captaincy reins from Tei Walden, who has been picked up by the Highlanders.

Knight may even pop up on the openside following Dan Baxter’s departure from Dunedin. Locks Tim Ferguson and Alex Dalzell have also moved on.

Harbour’s Elioti Tonga has made the move from Watson Park and Ryan Thompson shapes as the other key lineout forward.

Watch out for exciting first five-eighth Josh Ioane. He looks a class player and will have a leadership role in the team this season. Barnstorming No 8 Mika Mafi had a big impact last year and takes some tackling, while halfback Josh Walden and goalkicker Bryce Hosie are crucial to Southern’s game plan. – Adrian Seconi


Last year: Fifth
Coach: Keith Cameron replaces Elgan O’Donnell, Michael Robertson (assistant)
Will Cosgriff, Angus Vincent, Shelford Meads, Louis Tili, Tim Cossens, Josh Simpkins, Charlie McCartin, Tim Tolovae, Fapene Popoali’i, Rob Thompson, Liam Ward, Guy Woodhouse, Cory Rakish, Jackson Muir, Leroy Van Dam, Henry Scott
Forwards: Will Henry, Sean Smith, Brendon Eathorne, Donald Brighouse, Nasoni Havea, Sam Anderson-Heather, Ayden Lloyd, Nathan O’Brien, Colm Gorry, Harry Dodds, Mark Grieve Dunn, Richard Thompson, Alex Ainley, Ashley Craig, Morgan Reedy, Elliot Adams, Hame Toma, Jamie Mowat, Lausei Pritchard, Gareth Evans.

Dunedin started well but petered out towards the back end of the season. Not everyone appeared that committed once the semifinals were out of reach.

New coach and former Otago and Highlanders prop Keith Cameron will have a fresh-looking backline to work with. Pivot Greg Dyer signed with Southland and fullback Trent Renata joined Tasman.

Exciting Green Island centre Fapene Popoali’i has made the move to Dunedin. He has a good side step and nice fend and it will be interesting to see how he performs with a better team.

Bay of Plenty and New Zealand under-20 representative outside back Leroy van Dam is also transferring to Dunedin.

Up front, Dunedin will look to Otago players Sam Anderson-Heather and Donald Brighouse. Prop Will Henry has about 150 games under his belt and Mark Grieve-Dunn is a tidy ball winner, while hard-working flanker Hame Toma is back for another stint.

Exciting flanker Alex Fitzgerald has moved to Wellington. – Adrian Seconi


Last year: Sixth
Coach: Andy Hunter (fifth year), Chris Smith and Ryan Martin (assistant)
Kadin Brock, Mitchell Purvis, Logan Moore, Danny van der Voort, Matt Jones, Tony Ensor, Rob Jordan, Jordan McEntee, Blake Ensor, Chris Whitley, Jackson Mitchell, Sean Conner, Eti Slater, Tim Morrison, Jayden Spence, Josh Renton
Forwards: George Hendry, Lachie Landels, Jonah Aiona, Sam Wyber, Sidney Fidow, Blair van der Voort, Willie Miller, Sean Johnstone, Pita Sinamoni, Matt McNamara, Blair Tweed, Ollie McLelland, Cody Lang, Slade McDowall, Jonny Appleby, Nathan Hull, Shane Calder, Lee Allan, Josh Hohneck, Ash Dixon

Kaikorai wanted to spread the ball last year and plans on playing an expansive style again this season. The team will look to utilise the pace of fullback Tony Ensor and winger Matt Jones, who is another year older and another year better.

Props Jonah Aiona and George Hendry should give Kaikorai parity in the scrums, while lock Blair Tweed has ended his brief flirtation with Zingari-Richmond.

Otago Boys’ High School and New Zealand Secondary Schools loose forward Slade McDowall is another useful addition. He may take a year or two to adjust to senior rugby, though.

On the negative side of the ledger, first five-eighth Matt Te Tana has moved home to Central Otago and will be a big loss. Mitchell Purvis is the leading candidate to start in the pivot’s role in Te Tana’s absence.

Midfielder Jayden Spence will miss the opening four or five weeks with a rib injury. Lee Allan is expected to join the squad at the start of round two as he will play in South Otago to start the season. – Adrian Seconi


Last year: Seventh
Coach: Andrew Meville, Trevor Shanks
Inoke Naivalulevu, Chris McNoe, Dwayne Corcoran, Kelly Moore, Allister Butterfield, Thomas Johnson, Patrick Murrow, Maurice Stone, Ricky Curline, Shaun Dungey.
Forwards: Chris Bell, Ciaran Jansen, Tom Rowe, Reilly Leonard, Matthew McCormick, Chris Preddy, Marcel Taani, Liam Stables, Chris Shields, Luke Van Gorp, Chris Baughan, Steve Roberts.

Zingair-Richmond has built nicely over the past couple of years but this year appears to be a challenging one.

Some key players have moved on and the side has some holes to fill. But the colours will not die through a lack of spirit and have some core of experience.

Lock and captain Joe Latta has gone to England to play, while midfielders Taylor Fiddes and Lachie Moore are also playing in England and may not be back. Fullback Kristian Walker has moved back to the North Island, as has hooker Masiu Akauloa. Prop Stu Young will play for Lawrence, while Blair Tweed has gone back to Kaikorai.

Evergreen loose forward Chris Bell will turn out again and first five-eighth Thomas Johnson will be a key man in the backline. – Steve Hepburn


Last year: Eighth
Coach: Grant Sneddon replaces Josh Clark, Tom Garforth (assistant)
Scott Emmerson, James Smith, Drew Divehall, Kieran Fowler, Paul Tupai, David Dam, Will Scorgie, Sean English, Mitch Kelly, Puasa Naivalu, Dan Dam, Sam Shuker, Craig Sneddon
Forwards: Hamish Boult, Will Ward, Craig Miller, Dwain Morrissey, Hamish Clapp, Jared Williams, Hayden Fleury, Chris Morrissey, Jeff Evans Turner, Motu Hutch, Warren Kearney, Alexander Gormley, Josh Clark, Katiana Molitika

Pirates made improvements last year, climbing one place in the standings to eighth with five wins during the round robin. The club had a very competitive forward pack but the backline was not of the same quality. Defensively, there were way too many lapses. But new coach Grant Sneddon believes his backline will be more organised and more potent this year. In fact, he is counting on it.”They had their issues and their defence let them down at times,” Sneddon said.”But they didn’t really get used and there will be a different game plan this year.” Pirates do not have a lot of star power in the backs “but if we can get them working at a unit, I think they will do all right”.

Pirates might actually have more problems up front. Otago prop Hisa Sasagi has flown the coop to the Hurricanes and Craig Miller is a couple of injuries away from suiting up for the Highlanders. Locks Jared Williams and Hayden Fleury will ensure the Pirates pack still has plenty of resolve, and classy flanker Josh Clark always makes an impact. – Adrian Seconi


Last year: Ninth
Coach: Ben Herring replaces John Frood, Allan Wheeler (assistant)
Caleb Gray, Legin Felix-Holtham, Rhys Morgan, Tom Fitzgibbon, Ben Quaqua, Junior Vitale, Tevita Inoke, Ratu Bishop, Gerard Heather, Poasa Cama, Henry Burns, Noah Cooper, Adam Simpson, John Tapueluluheu, Jonah Nareki, Sione Latu
Forwards: Tristan Fuli, Bevan Bolger, George Ravula, Alex Frood, Josh Taylor, Harley Iraia, Ben Tuiomanufili, Ryan Dawson, Declan Martens, Viliami Mainavalala, Jeremy McKee, Ben Webby, Tom Frood, Max Aitkenhead, Ben Johnson, Jacob Coghlan, Lance Barbarich, Ty Pelasio, Brendon Bond, Tiake Cameron

Peter Breen’s departure is a seismic event for Alhambra-Union. The 27-year-old first five-eighth has signed with Northland. He brought up 100 games for the club last season and his tactical and place-kicking game will be sorely missed. Welshman Rhys Morgan will run the cutter in Breen’s absence.”He is certainly a very good athlete but we just need to work with him and hopefully he can come together and be quite a nice 10 for us,” coach Ben Herring said.

Prop Scott Manson is playing rugby in Spain, so Tristan Fuli will anchor that side of the scrum and is a player with a bright future. Loose forward Lance Barbarich is a key man in the pack and lock Ben Tuiomanufili is another player to look out for, especially with Michael Colville heading off shore.”He did not play a whole lot last year but Ben is certainly a bloody good player and I would like to encourage him to go as far as he can with it, because he might have something there.” Fullback Noah Cooper is a reliable player in what will be a new-look backline. – Adrian Seconi

Green Island

Last year: 10th
Coach: Dean Moeahu replaces Andrew Walsh, Corey Kara (assistant)
Devon Stapley, Tim King, Clement Le Roy, Sam Eripea, Sunia Makasina, Taisei Haya’ahi, Oli Knopp, Hayden McBride, Sofele Tuigamala, Alex Barnsley, Jared Fahey, Jade Wilson, Matt Lobb, Jack Wilson
Forwards: Mike Bennett, Richard Te Nahu, Timoni Tawaketini, Ricki Campbell, Moe Makasini, Ricky Hollamby, Ben Lang, Tim Heller, Mitchell Turner, Simon Tupu, James Spooner, Tahu Nikau, Makoto Tosa, Jackson Hemopo, Matt McCutcheon.

Green Island did not win a game last year so the only way is up.

New coach Dean Moeahu, who played more than 200 games for the team, has taken the reins. He has been working hard with the players and said the attitude was good. But it is results on the paddock which mattered.‘‘For us we need to get a few wins. We need to win a few and get off to a good start,” he said.

Moeahu said many of the players who had returned from last year had got into reasonable shape.

Highlander Jackson Hemopo will play for the club when available and he was in good form last year, although he was sometimes finding it hard to take on opponents by himself.

Jack Wilson will also turn out for the team when he can get away from the Highlanders, while James Spooner, who has played in the outside backs, has been moved into the openside flanking role.

Moeahu said he seemed more of a natural fit there.

A young halfback, Clement Le Roy, has come from France to play and there are a couple of young inside backs who have some promise. The side will have co-captains with hooker Ricky Hollamby and midfielder Sam Eripea leading the side. – Steve Hepburn

Full Otago Daily Times Article