Six line up - but there can only be one

Valley celebrate winning the Citizens Shield last year. PHOTO: KYLE BECK
Valley celebrate winning the Citizens Shield last year. PHOTO: KYLE BECK
Citizens Shield club rugby finally gets under way in North Otago today when Kurow play Excelsior, Maheno face Athletic Marist, and Old Boys take on defending champions Valley. Kayla Hodge takes a quick look at  the six teams. 


It was a season that dreams are made of for Valley in 2023. They went through unbeaten to regain the Citizens Shield and did so while showing their resilience and being light on numbers. But they have a loyal core and will be keen to go back to back. Their strength has always been in their forwards and that will be no different this year with Cameron Rowland, Meli Kolinisau, Sam Sturgess and Jake Greenslade lining up again. St Kevin’s recruits Evo Ridley and Campbell Fowler add depth as well. Isaac Clunie has controlled their side at first five the past two seasons and Matt Vocea always adds plenty. Halfback Jake Matthews is also expected to return from overseas after this month. Promising Heartland winger Asesela Ravuvu has moved to Taieri.



Nothing like being beaten finalists to light a fire in the belly. Excelsior made a return to the playoffs last year and made their first final appearance since 2015. Heartland coach Jason Forrest is back with his old club to take over the reins. Forrest, who will be joined by assistant Kayne Middleton, will lean on the experience of flanker Mat Duff, who was a standout in last year’s final. Samu Babiau is a proven ball-carrier off the back of the scrum and flying Fijian Matia Qiolevu can light up a game from anywhere in the backline. Towering centre Oli Knopp and Englishman Josh Phipps — entering his fifth season with the club — join a strong backline. Expect Blues to come out fighting to win their first shield since 1997.


Old Boys

Being light on numbers will never stop Old Boys. The club is packed with Pasifika flair and on their day can drive anyone into the ground. They had a slow start last season but rebounded beautifully to make the top four and will again be aiming big. Prop Kelepi Funaki always leads from the front and puts in some big minutes. Electric back Tini Feke has been used predominantly as a halfback but can cover multiple positions in their backline without missing a beat. Stalwart Inoke Fisilau is also handy across the backline and adds plenty in terms of leadership as well. Blockbusting No 8 Junior Fakatoufifita is expected to be back for the whole season. Halfback Alex Wilson joins in his first year out of Waitaki Boys’.



The Red Devils’ passionate fan base will be wanting to paint the town red again. Kurow lost last year’s playoff in gutting fashion when they missed a penalty right on the strike of fulltime. Coach Andrew Fisher will be wanting to get the shield back up the valley and will be joined by former captain Josh Reid, who has made the transition to assistant coach. Former Highlander Hayden Parker is expected to miss the season with a shoulder complaint, but Cromwell midfielder Hayden Todd, who played Heartland rugby in 2021 and 2022, is back. Lock Angus Foster has also returned. Former Highlander Matt Faddes has become a key cog in the Kurow backline alongside Ben Nowell and Dean Fenwick.


Athletic Marist

Is this Athies’ year? Former Kurow coach Tim Anderson, who coached the Red Devils to their first Citizens Shield title in 39 years in 2021 and backed it up in 2022, has signed on as head coach. He has former Kurow player Tyler Burgess as his assistant and former Athies players Hayden James and Mason Kinzett in support. Lock Epineri Logavatu is always busy, as is dynamic prop Lisivani Tui’fua and flanker Nale Fifita. Former North Harbour winger Osea Qamasea broke on to the North Otago scene last year and was electric down the wing during the Heartland season. Look for him to ignite something from nothing.



Maheno’s spine is as strong as ever as they aim to make a return to the playoffs. Hooker Hayden Tisdall, who was a standout for the Old Golds last season, will lift everyone around him. Halfback Robbie Smith leads the backline and midfielder Lachie Kingan is as reliable as they come. Lightning-quick Jesse Bowring impressed in Maheno’s backline last season and Jacob Day is always solid. Young prop Toby Growcott joins fresh out of St Kevin’s. Import Bo Byrd, who came over last season, is also expected to suit up for the green machine again.