North Otago shuffles pack as it looks to get back on track

North Otago has shuffled its pack as it looks to get back to winning ways today.

But it will not be easy as heavyweight Wanganui comes to town.

North Otago chalked up its first loss of the season last week, going down in a cliffhanger to West Coast in Greymouth.

But it picked up a bonus point and remains in the lead in the Heartland Championship, albeit sharing top position with West Coast and South Canterbury.

There are two rounds left after this weekend before the playoffs begin.

Wanganui has never been far from the top of the table in Heartland competitions.

It has won the Meads Cup six times as well as well as being beaten finalist four times and it won the Lochore Cup in 2014.

Before the introduction of the Meads-Lochore Cup system,Wanganui - under the old second-third division system - was third division champion in 1989 and 1996 and runner-up in the second division in 1982-84 while in 1976 it was runner-up in the then second division.

But it made a poor start to this season, losing to Wairarapa-Bush 28-18, Thames Valley 36-30 and Buller 22-21.

It found form to defeat West Coast 36-18, ending the Coast's unbeaten run, and thumped East Coast 67-24 last week.

While Wanganui's form may appear to be fragile it has the ability to win its final three rounds and force its way into the playoffs.

Wanganui coach Jason Caskey puts his side's scratchy start down to personnel changes and a new breed of guys.

"You've only got to watch the players getting off the bus.

"They grab their own gear and are gone.

It's just where things are at now. I put it down to an age thing, I think.

"After all, we're still playing our old style with a smaller mobile pack," he said.

"Loan players can make a big difference but North Otago has been travelling well, especially in what is a very tight competition. At home I rate North Otago. They'll be a tough team."

North Otago coaches Jason Forrest and Nick Anderson have made some changes for the Wanganui game.

In the second row, Joshua Hayward joins Woody Kirkwood while Charles Elton, normally a lock, goes to No8 and Josh Clark moves to the blindside flank.

In the backs, Dunedin inside back George Witana will make his debut at first five-eighth, replacing Mike Williams, who is away with the University under-23 side, while Lachie Kingan is in the reserves for the game. Witana travelled to Greymouth with the team last week.

North Otago v Wanganui

Oamaru, 2.30pm

North Otago: Patrick Pati, Howard Packman, Lemi Masoe, Samuel Tatupu, Taina
Tamou, George Witana, Robbie Smith, Charles Elton, Jacob Coghlan, Josh Clark,
William Kirkwood, Justin Hayward, Kelepi Funaki, Sam Sturgess (captain), Ralph
Darling.Reserves: Melikisua Kolinisau, Michael Mata’afa, Jake Greenslade, Marcus
Balchin, Anthony Arty, Matthew Vocea, Lachlan Kingan.

Wanganui: Shai Weperi, Vereniki Tikoisolomone, Amos Pogia, Penijamini
Nabainivalu, Tyler Rogers-Holden, Dane Whale, Lindsay Horrocks, Ezra Meleisea,
Jamie Hughes, Campbell Hart, Josh Lane, Sam Madams, Wiremu Cottrell, Roman
Tutauha, Gabriel Hakaraia.Reserves:Dylan Gallien, Kamipeli Latu, Angus Middleton,
Ranato Tikoisolomone, Ethan Robinson, Troy Brown, Nick Harding.

-By Terry O'Neill


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