North Otago squad mixture of youth, experience

North Otago coaches Jason Forrest and Nick Anderson have named a 32-player Heartland Championship squad.

The squad of 17 forwards and 15 backs will start the Heartland Championship with a game against arch rival South Canterbury in Timaru on August 24.

The only warm-up game will be against Otago Country at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin as a curtain-raiser to the Ranfurly Shield match between Otago and Southland.

The squad is a mixture of youth and experience.

Centurion Ralph Darling will lend his experience to the front row with captain Sam Sturgess leading the team.

Big prop Melikisua Kolinisau is backed up by Mike Mata'afa, Kelepi Funaki, rising Kurow star Lototonga Malafu and Hayden Tisdall.

Josh Hayward and Woody Kirkwood, who have both played for Green Island, will bulk up the second row, while Josh Clark is an option there and at No8.

In the loose, Manulua Taiti, who has been playing at halfback for Old Boys, returns to the side row along with Marcus Balchin, who will surely add to his couple of games.

Versatile loose forward Jake Greenslade and the experience of Mat Duff, Toni Taufa, Jacob Coghlan and No8 Samisoni Tongotongo complete the forwards. Coghlan is the player of origin.

Lemi Masoe, who played for South Canterbury in 2018, returns to the old gold jersey in which he has played 95 first-class games. His experience will be important to the young backline.

In-form Robbie Smith and Anthony Arty fill the positions behind the pack while newcomer Lachlan Kingan, a powerful kicker, will get the start at first five-eighth.

Providing punch in the backline are Kayne Middleton, Antonio Misiloi, Sam Tatupu and Taina Tamou, while Andrew Fauoo, Clement Gasca, Patrick Pati and Howard Packman will be making their debuts during the season.

Another fresh face is teenager Ben McCarthy, a product of St Kevin's College, who made his club debut in the Citizens Shield-winning Maheno team.

McCarthy played most of his first season at fullback but appears to have the talents to fill most positions in the backline.

Clubmate Adam Johnson, who has had a couple of games in the past, will provide real pace out wide while Valley's Matthew Vocea is a strong-running midfielder.

North Otago lost in the Lochore Cup semifinals last year.

-By Terry O'Neill

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