Dunedin clubs: the 2019 season preview

Team captains Jack McHugh (University, left) and Charles Elton (Harbour) hold the Championship Shield aloft after drawing their Dunedin club rugby final at Forsyth Barr Stadium last year. Photos: Gerard O'Brien
Team captains Jack McHugh (University, left) and Charles Elton (Harbour) hold the Championship Shield aloft after drawing their Dunedin club rugby final at Forsyth Barr Stadium last year. Photos: Gerard O'Brien
Dunedin club rugby starts for another season on Saturday. The Otago Daily Times looks at the nine teams set to compete for bragging rights.

University

Last year: Joint champions

Coach: Pete McIntyre (second year), assistant Roy Hawker

Squad. -

Forwards: Ben Reidy, Angus Williams, Ben Smith, Callum Hardie, Dale Jarden, Gus McPherson, Hadleigh Morgan, Henry Bell, Jack McHugh (captain), James Bolton, Josh Hill, Josh Policarpio, Kilipati Lea, Mamea Taimalie, Matt Shirley, Ricky Jackson, Sam Dickson, Sean Withy, Travis Egerton, Trent Freeman.

Backs: Andrew Smylie, Brandon Maitland, Calvin Vari, Cam Gerlach, Cam McClea, Chris Johnston, Connor McLeod, Devin Lawson, Emeka Ilogu, Graham Urquhart, JP Lawson, Ama Anderson, Kieran McClea, Kody Edwards, Mike Williams, Nathan Giles, Patrick Atkinson, Taylor Haugh, Tyler Beary.

The students have retained the bulk of their side from last year, and should be right in the fight.

University led the competition for the whole season last year, and then shared the final after it and Harbour could not be separated after extra time, with the scores locked at 30-30.

Coaching team Pete McIntyre and Roy Hawker return and will want to win the title outright. The side is just going to be taking it one game at a time and aiming to peak for the business end of the season.

Josh Timu has signed for the Sunwolves, while key forwards Josh Hill and Sam Dickson are trialling for the NZ under-20 side. Should they make it they will be away for the bulk of the season.

Props Callum Hardie and Angus Williams are back, as is Kilipati Lea. Henry Bell - who played on the flank for University Colts and John McGlashan College - has decided to move to hooker and will be one to watch with interest.

Big lock Ben Reidy is back, and so is the experienced Dale Jarden. Jack McHugh will captain the side again and flanker Sean Withy has made the premier squad, straight out of Southland Boys' High School.

The backs are much the same as last year, apart from the departure of winger Gavin Stark, who has gone to Bay of Plenty. Welshman Patrick Atkinson has landed in Dunedin and will duel for the first five-eighth position. Taylor Haugh and Calvin Vari will again be key men, while Mike Williams will want to keep improving. Halfback Graham Urquhart will be pushing others.

 

Harbour prop Aidan Spence calls for support.
Harbour prop Aidan Spence calls for support.
Harbour

Last year: Joint champion

Coach: Ryan Nicholas (second year)

Squad. -

Forwards: Joey Williams, Jeff Ikani, Michi Kanado, Solomon Pole, James Tonkinson, Charles Elton (captain), Tim Medder, Isaiah Mapusua, Kafaongo Katoa, Saulo Mau, Joji Ravula, Abraham Pole, Austin Atiga, Sione Misoli, Jokatani Koroi, Junior Pole, Hale T Pole.

Backs: Sam Porter, Sala Halaleva, Pilu Tavake, Aleki Morris-Lome, Marcus Schaaf Ewan Brumwell, Humaua Samasoni, Jin Ho Mun, Tala Fagasoaia, Logan Allen, Simi Latu, Ngana Nicholas.

Harbour wants to go half a title better, and it will have to do that with a dozen or so personnel changes.

The Hawks collected their first title last season, but had to share it with University. But some of the players which helped get them that far are not returning this season.

Coach Ryan Nicholas will have to make do without the likes of powerful ball-runners Naulia Dawai and Giorgio Bower and halfback Melani Matavao. They have moved to greener pastures.

Hooker Sekonaia Pole and lock-cum-loose forward Joketani Koroi are playing in the Rapid Rugby tournament and are expected back in May.

Robust lock Sione Misoloi had surgery on a troublesome ankle during the off-season and is also expected back in May.

In the gains column, centre Aleki Morris-Lome and exciting outside back Sala Haleleva have returned after stints in Southland. Halfback Tala Fagasoaia is another returnee, while powerful Fijian prop Joji Ravula and North Otago loose forward Kafa Katoa join the campaign.

And look out for exciting trio Isaiah Mapusua, Jeff Ikani and Simi Latu. They are promising young players who are on the rise.

''We've got the squad to do it,'' Nicholas said when asked if the team could take sole possession of the trophy this season.

''We are way ahead of where we were last year in terms of our pre-season and base fitness. Compared with last year I'm happy as.''

Harbour made a very slow start last season and needs to begin better.

 

McHugh scores for University despite the best efforts of Harbour's Solomon Pole.
McHugh scores for University despite the best efforts of Harbour's Solomon Pole.
Taieri

Last year: Beaten semifinalist

Coach: Phil Young (third year), assistant Adam Whaanga

Squad. -

Forwards: Ethan Harrex, Kerran O'Sullivan, Cam Allan-McNeill, Brady Robertson, Tom Hardie, Ben Morris, Shea Robertson, Vinnie O'Connell, Sam Fischli, Brodie Hume, Ryan Williams, Nick Henderson, Alex Niedzwiecki, Josh Brown.

Backs: Bob Martin, Tatsuya Hamano, Kurt Hammer, Taine Ranga, Corey Mckay, Matt Whaanga, Kori Rupene, Will Ngatai, Marc Rooney, Mitchell Scott, Tyler Ford, Shannon Young, Josh Casey, Chase Owen.

Taieri rebounded last season to make the semifinals and is hoping to stay on that upward trajectory.

Coach Phil Young was doing his best to play down expectations. But he has an exciting line-up despite some telling departures.

Canterbury lock Ben Morris has made the move south and will fill the void left by the departure of Canadian international Josh Larsen.

Otago under-19 halfback Bob Martin joins the Eels from University. He will compete for a starting spot with Japanese No9 Tatsuya Hamano.

Regular halfback Kurt Hammer is playing for the Asia Pacific Dragons in the Global Rapid Rugby tournament.

Bay of Plenty's Taine Craig-Ranga and Canterbury's Corey McKay will jostle for the No10 spot, while centre Will Ngatai (Bay of Plenty) is another promising player.

The fleet-footed Josh Casey is likely to be stationed at his more natural position of fullback for the season.

Prop Tom Hill is playing rugby in the UK and fullback Mitchell Scott is another player Young may have to learn to do without. There is talk he may be joining the Global Rapid Rugby tournament.

''We'll be a very young side but in saying that our expectation each Saturday is just to keep performing and we'll see what happens, really,'' Young said.

The ''one game at a time'' mantra worked out pretty well last season.

 

Kaikorai

Last year: Beaten semifinalist

Coach: Roger Cotton (second year), assistant Allan Lindsay

Squad. -

Forwards: Jonah Aoina, Sidney Fidow, Sam Wyber, Mitch Pryde,Mitch Mahoni Rae, Masaka Midorikawa, Aaron Lucas, Pita Sinamoni, Isi Tuivaga, Jack Wetton, Slade McDowall, Riley McDowall, Patrick McCurran, Christian Lio Willie.

Backs: Kane Johnston, Conor Downey, Ben Miller, Roman Blackman, T.J. Arne, Chris Whitley, Sam McColl, George Thomas, Corey Miller, Jordan McEntee, Layne Opetaia, Sam Jones, Matt Jones, Gus Gray, Tim Price, Logan Jones, Robbie Wong-Toi.

Kaikorai has kept much of its side intact and will be looking to get back into the top four.

The side has plenty of depth, and that is a real key for any side as injuries arrive during the season. It has a good set of loose forwards and a rugged front row.

Big prop Jonah Aoina is nursing a wrist injury but he should be back within a few weeks.

Slade McDowall and Ben Miller will share the captaincy duties.

Roman Blackman has joined from University and the inside back is a solid addition. He is good on his feet and a solid defender.

Josh Renton has gone to play in Italy and will be missed, while Kadin Brooks is playing in England. Front-rower George Hendry has moved to Australia and lock Willie Miller is playing in Central Otago.

The Kaikorai colts side performed well last year, and some of those players will be moving up to the premier ranks.

Coach Roger Cotton helped out with Ryan Martin last year before taking a fuller hand midway through last season. He will be joined by former Canterbury halfback Allan Lindsay this season.

Cotton said the pre-season has gone well and he was - like every other team in the competition - hoping to win the big prize.

 

Southern

Last year: Fifth

Coach: Luke Herden, Warren Moffat (assistant)

Squad. -

Forwards: Mike Mata'afa, Kurt Whittaker-Prendeville, Sam Pene, Alan Ata, Jack Clement, Hisa Sasagi, Jone Lesi, Axel Hohneck (captain), Alex Chubb, Caleb Grace, Jermayne Maika, Tom Hume, Jake Burtenshaw, Gregor Croudis, Brad Horne, Mika Mafi.

Backs: Callum Brown, Matt Horne, Dom Clapcot, Bryce Hosie, Kalolo Tulifauomanaia, Tama Apineru, Josh Huddleston, Paul Tupai, Jake Malbon, Mackenzie Haugh, Owen Draper, Mika Vaitupu, Mitch Kelly.

Southern has had a few comings and goings, but is likely to stick to its style of big, solid loose forwards and hard-running backs to get back into the top four.

The side lost a few close games last year. It won the title in 2017 but was too inconsistent last year.

Luke Herden and Warren Moffat took over as coaches midway through last season, but are in charge from the off this season.

The side has lost key loose forward Kyle Harris, who has gone to Australia, along with winger Josh Gordon. Harris was a quality player, who was unlucky not to play for Otago.

Halfback Lima Howley is playing in England.

The side has brought up some players from its colts side and No8 Mika Mafi is back from his stint in North Otago. Much is expected from Jermayne Maika, while Hisa Sasagi and Sam Pene will form part of a solid front row.

Josh Ioane has been a key for Southern in the past few years, but he may not be seen much. First five-eighth Dominic Clapcott has come over from University. Lock Axel Hohneck will captain the side.

 

Dunedin

Last year: sixth

Coach: Steve Mowat (first year), assistant Mike Maguire

Squad. -

Forwards: John Stowers, Josh Tom, Cam Burrows, Aidan Lloyd, Grayson Hardy, Kees Scott, Sepa Vaka, Teague McIlroy, Mark Grieve-Dunn, Ben Freschini, Liam Trainor, Keegan Anderson, Logan Garforth, Jamie Mowat, Hame Toma, Daniel Hogan, Josh Retter, Xavier English, Richard Thompson, Nathan O'Brien.

Backs: Tim Hogan, Ben Taylor, George Witana, Evaan Reihana, Jared Fahey, Gene Te Amo, Keegan Christian-Goss, Harrison Boyle, Rory Ward, Bayley Sullivan, James Te Pairi, Eamon O'Brien.

Dunedin has built its game around its scrum, and will continue to use its pack to muscle its way forward.

But this season there will be a couple of important cogs missing. Otago hooker Sam Anderson-Heather has ''semi-retired'' and Otago prop Don Brighouse is playing rugby in the United Kingdom.

The replacement front-rowers are moving up from the lower grades.

Experienced inside back Evaan Reihana will bolster the midfield. He is the son of former All Black Bruce Reihana.

He will be joined by punishing centre Gene Te Amo, who is more of a direct runner.

Te Amo has been part of the Counties-Manukau development programmes but has moved south in search of opportunities.

Loose forward Xavier English is likely to get some opportunities at some stage as well. He is from Wellington and straight out of school. But he has shown promise in the pre-season.

Dunedin will get plenty of go-forward from loose forward Hame Toma, who is one of the hardest runners in the competition. Lock and captain Mark Grieve-Dunn is another who has never flinched when asked to hit the ball up.

Prop Teague McElroy broke his leg in a sickening clash last season. He is expected to make his playing return in round two or three. He was in fabulous touch before the accident.

 

Green Island

Last year: Seventh

Co-coaches: Dean Moeahu (fourth year) and Erik Vaafusuaga (first year)

Squad. -

Forwards: Jake Fowler, Taniora Raniera, Jessie Vaafusuaga, Sean Jansen, Logan Taimalie, Shane Fikken, Bradley Primmer, Samuel Duncan, Woody Kirkwood, Cory Wheeler, Timoci Tawaketini, Dylan Nel, Peter Mirrielees, Tim Heller, Richard Latu, Brett Kingsbury, Josh Hayward.

Backs: James Arscott, Niven Longopoa, Isaak Te Hiwi, Devin Stapley, Raymond Nu'u, Finn Strawbridge, Alex Barnsley, Delaney McKenzie, Sunia Makasini.

Seventh last year. Semifinals this season.

That is the plan, at least.

Green Island was a much better side than its lowly finish suggested. It had wins against most of the top sides, but a lack of bonus points proved costly.

Powerful Otago No8 Dylan Nel joins and he is a boost.

Southland midfielder Ray Nu'u is a good ball runner and makes good decisions. His combination with pivot Finn Strawbridge shapes as an area of strength for the team.

Otago Boys' High School halfback from last year James Arscott has joined Green Island.

Niven Longopoa has made the move south from Waikato. The outside back is a former athlete, who has pace and agility.

Ben Patston has made the move from player to coaching staff. He will be assisting co-coaches Dean Moeahu and Erik Vaafusuaga this season.

''Just with the calibre of player we are carrying there is no reason why we can't make the top four,'' Moeahu responded when asked how the team would go.

''Last year was a learning curve for a lot of our guys in how to close out games and make sure we were accumulating those bonus points. We'll put that right this year.''

 

Alhambra-Union

Last year: Eighth

Coach: John Hyde (new) assistants: Rodney Stringer, Craig Sneddon

Squad. -

Forwards: Tristan Fuli, Huw Sutton, Utu Tapueluelu, Rewi Pomare, Ben Tuiomanufili, Kevin Vaeluaga, Alex Frood, Callum Donnelly, Louis Magaloogo, Will Milns, Brad Morgan, Tom Frood, Matt Kemp, Liam Geddes, Rory Naylor, Joe Coventry, Ma'ole Faletolu, Ben Pereira, Jacob Coghlan, Jake Ellis.

Backs: Elim Liko, Connor Newlands, Junior Vitale, Levi Emery, Isaac Milne, Ethan Yeo, Jack Royal, Pio Lupo, Josiah Lesa,Henry Wragg, Sam Baker-Leota, Siosi Fafita, John Tapueluelu (captain), Brady Kingan, Harry Webby, Legin Hotham.

The winds of change have blown through the North Ground with a whole new coaching team taking the reins of the premier side.

John Hyde comes back into premier rugby having last coached at University in 2014. He has links to the Alhambra-Union club, having played for it from 1989-91. He will be joined by Craig Sneddon and Rodney Stringer.

Hyde was excited to be back at the club and said team spirit was good and the side had a good mix of experienced players and some players promoted from the colts grade. Plenty of players have left and new faces have appeared. Veteran Ben Pereira is named in the squad.

The team will be captained by winger John Tapueluelu and Alex Frood will be the vice captain. In the backs Legin Hotham and Levi Emery will be key men.

Little is expected to be seen of sevens players Jona Nareki and Vilimoni Koroi. Alhambra-Union had a bad run of injuries last year and need to keep players on the park to be competitive.

 

Zingari-Richmond

Last year: ninth

Squad. -

Forwards: Karl Still, Matt McCormick (co-captain) Eli Tonga, BJ Puatolo, Jacob Turrell, Alex Nettleton, Feleti Tonga, Connor Graham, Conrad Williams, Junior Meafua, Chris Bell, Jack Wolfreys, Haki Hamilton, EJ Lam Cheung, Ciaran Jansen, Isi Veikoso.

Backs: Chris McNoe, Shae Tucker, Keenan Masina (co-captain) Devin Redfern, Martin Bahmani, Liu Tongia, Thomas Johnson, Cole Bardwell, Taylor Fiddes, Mark McIver, Willie Time, Caleb Stevenson, Chris Talauta, Kite Moataane, Bailey Matoe.

Coach: Karina Nafatali (new), Richard Lindsay, Jack Wolfreys

The only way is up for Zingari-Richmond after last season. It won the first game of the season against Harbour but that was as good as it got and it did not win another game.

Karina Nafatali takes over as coach and she will be assisted by Richard Lindsay and Jack Wolfreys. Wolfreys, a flanker, is coming back from a serious knee injury and could play later in the season.

Nafatali wants the side to improve through the season. The players had worked really hard in the off-season and a lot of new players have come in. She has no set goals as such but simply to progress and be competitive.

Shae Tucker, who was a quality back at University a few years, who moved to North Harbour and Hawkes Bay, is back in Dunedin, and turning out for the colours.

The side will have co-captains, with Keenan Masina and Matt McCormick doing the job. Thomas Johnston is playing in England but should be back in April. Veteran Chris Bell is back for another year and will bring his vast experience to the team. Speedy back Taylor Fiddes is back from overseas.

Tom Rowe is playing in Japan and front rower Jesse Muir is not playing.

- Squads supplied by clubs

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