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The 2019 southern club competition kicked off on Saturday with last year's champions, the Dunedin Bears, not fielding a team for the season. The now six-team competition hosts three teams from Dunedin and three teams from Invercargill.
Kia Toa Tigers, South Pacific Raiders and University are the sides from Dunedin while Cooks, the Cowboys and He Tauaa are the sides from Invercargill. Games will be played in both cities.
Cooks started their season strongly against the South Pacific Raiders, with Ramera Chambers running in two tries in the first half. A couple of conversions and a try from Robert Niue saw the Cooks up 16-6 going into half-time. The Cooks proved to be too good for last year's grand finalists, with Chambers completing his hat-trick in the second half, and three further tries meant the Cooks secured a 40-22 victory.
The Invercargill Cowboys and Kia Toa Tigers shared their opening round points. It was a battle of the forward packs as windy conditions meant that both teams struggled to get the ball out wide to the outside backs.
The Cowboys played hard through the middle of the park, but Kia Toa fronted up well. Cowboys players Daniel Low and Dylan Lovett each made over 30 tackles for the match, which reflects just how much of the game was played through the middle. A try to 18-year-old debutant Tupu Lavea and a strong performance from the forward pack were key takeaways for the Cowboys and their season ahead. The tight tussle finished at 24-24, with both teams taking away a point each.
A well-prepared, but relatively new University side travelled down to Invercargill to take on He Tauaa at Elles Road. Rookie league player Sam Watt played well and broke the line a few times for University. The second-rower also put together University's only highlight of the match, with a chip over the top recovered by another rookie, Nathaniel Anderson, to score.
However, He Tauaa dominated most of the game and continued to pile on the points, beginning its season by winning the one-sided affair 44-12.