Some notable crossovers as Whalers open season

The Otago Whalers will kick off their South Island Championship campaign against the Southland Rams today and the squad features plenty of familiar names for those who follow the other code.

Back in the dark days, you either played rugby or league. Making the leap from one to the other was a little like moving to the US from the USSR during the Cold War years.

But with the premier club rugby season not going on as long these days, and the club rugby league season starting later, there are greater opportunities for players to dabble in both.

Experienced Southern Magpies No8 Mika Mafi is one of more than half a dozen rugby union players named in the side.

The hard-running loose forward will play in the second row, making his debut for the Whalers.

Despite his inexperience, he shapes as one of the key players.

Co-captains Ricki Allan and Mackenzie Haugh are instrumental, as well.

Haugh is better known as a rugby player. He scored three tries to help Southern win the premier banner in 2017 but is also an accomplished rugby league player.

The fullback played for the South Island team against New Zealand Universities in the curtain-raiser for the 2014 test between the Kiwis and England at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Allan brings superb leadership skills, experience and the prop is a hard man to tackle as well.

Whalers coach Dave Reedy said code-hoppers were more common now there was not as much overlap between the two club seasons.

‘‘It just gives the players a chance to play both,’’ he said.

The transition is usually quite smooth. Some times the rugby players place the ball in the tackle, rather than holding on to it, but they soon adapt, Reedy said.

‘‘We have a little giggle when that happens every now and then.’’

Another key player for the Whalers is standoff Eteru Ropeti.

He hails from Auckland and joined the squad only this week.

He is a considerable talent, though. He has played representative rugby for New Zealand at age group level and for the Warriors under-18 side.

‘‘He is smart, experienced and a strong ball runner with good vision and a good skill set.’’

The Rams opened their campaign last weekend with a 30-20 loss to the West Coast.

But despite that setback, Reedy believes the Rams will be a difficult opponent.

‘‘I think they will be tough down at home. They had their first game last week against the West Coast and the West Coast managed to get up, so I imagine the Rams will be coming out all guns blazing.’’

The Whalers will host West Coast next weekend and complete the round-robin with an away fixture against a quality Canterbury Bulls unit.

The Bulls normally play in the Premiership but that grade had to be cancelled this year, because Covid prevented the Auckland sides from contesting the tournament.

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