Bay of Plenty has extra steam in form of Maori ABs

Salesi Rayasi was a breakout star for Auckland last season. Photo: Getty Images
Salesi Rayasi was a breakout star for Auckland last season. Photo: Getty Images
The 46th edition of the National Provincial Championship starts tonight when Manawatu hosts Counties-Manukau. Reporter Adrian Seconi provides a snapshot of the prospects for all 14 teams.

Premiership

The contenders

Speedy winger Salesi Rayasi scored 14 tries last season. He was unstoppable and Auckland might prove that way as well.

Tasman will have other ideas. The Mako edged Auckland in the final but look out for Bay of Plenty as well. The Steamers have strengthened their squad with Maori All Blacks Whetu Douglas, Sean Wainui and Manaaki Selby-Rickit.

The pretenders

Canterbury strung together some narrow losses in 2020 but ought to be back near the top again. Halfback Mitchell Drummond shapes as a key player.

Hawke’s Bay gained promotion and should be competitive in the top tier as long as hooker Ash Dixon can keep scoring tries from lineout drives.

The tailenders

Waikato will lean on first five Fletcher Smith to return to the playoffs, but it could be a stretch for the Mooloos.

Wellington has a tougher pack but will perhaps lack some direction.

Championship

The contenders

Taranaki has a very solid-looking squad with nearly everyone back.

But Otago has a lot of X-factor and will start the season as the favourite to gain promotion. Will be a little light on front-rowers early doors, though.

The pretenders

Northland has a combative pack and a willingness to swing it wide. Has lost some talent.

The Counties-Manukau Steelers might be on their way up after finishing sixth last season. They have signed Wallaby centurion Sekope Kepu and have also lured All Black Hoskins Sotutu south from Auckland.

The tailenders

North Harbour was relegated from the premiership and could also find life in the lower tier a challenge.

Southland will defend staunchly but the Stags perhaps lack the potency out wide to challenge for the playoffs.

Pencil Manawatu in for last place. Don’t tell Aaron Smith we said that.

 

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