Rugby: Best 22 North Otago players from the past 22 years

Ahead of King Country's visit to Oamaru to play North Otago on Saturday, Terry O'Neill picks his best 22 North Otago players from the past 22 years.

As North Otago's rugby stocks begin to fall, like that of many finance companies, it might be appropriate to look back on the past 22 years and attempt to select the 22 players who could be rated as North Otago's best.

When one considers fullbacks over the years, Kurow's Andrew Watherston was one of the most consistent and reliable, but also included in the ranks were Ali Fanene, Geoff Cleveland, Brent McEwan, Tony Mansfield, Craig Hore, Shaun Matthews, Nigel Mahan and Chris Wotton.

More recently in the 21st century Grant Johnston and Luke Herden have filled the position.

When it comes to wing threequarters three players immediately come to mind: Pila Fifita (15 tries in 2002), Watisoni Lotawa and Scott Mayhew.

In the last decade of the 20th century Ross Skinner was the standout, along with Kurow speedster Hayden Hunt, Sandy Wilson of Kurow, Mark Turner and Andrew Jones.

My first-choice wingers are Fifita and Lotawa, who went on to play for Southland, with speedster Mayhew on the bench.

The versatility of Ross Skinner is again underlined as he also must rate highly at centre three quarter.

Tama Loper, John Tupou, Mike Willetts, Grant Slater, Mike Mavor and Nathan Cunningham all featured in this key midfield position.

But to me the most dangerous centre three quarter was Maheno's Fepikou Tatafu.

A punishing runner and fearsome tackler, he combined effectively with his wingers.

Mike Mavor takes the second five-eighth position and is vice-captain of the side.

Mavor first played for North Otago in 1995, playing in all 10 games that season.

This was the beginning of a career which ended in 2008, at which stage he had played 122 first-class games for North Otago.

He was an adept reader of the game and a superb distributor.

When it comes to first five-eighth the choice is wide.

Peter Cook was coming to the end of his career in 1987. 1997 saw North Otago make the third division final, going down to Marlborough, but that year first five-eighth Chris Finch with two tries, 21 conversions and 30 penalties set the benchmark with 142 points for the season.

But that mark was not to last for Simon Porter, who played for North Otago from 2000 to 2002, scored a massive 390 points in those three seasons, 2000 (150), 2001 (81) and 2003 (159).

Porter transferred to Counties-Manukau in 2003.

Aucklander Brett Williams played all but one game at first five-eighth in 2003 and in 2004 another Dunedin loan player, Ryan Bambry, took over the first five-eighth role.

He scored 134 points as North Otago made it through to the second division semifinals.

The year 2007 saw Glenn Dickson assume the role of goal-kicker from his second five-eighth position, although he always appeared better suited to first five-eighth as he lacked that extra yard of pace in midfield.

Dickson played in all but one of North Otago's first-class games that year, accumulating 135 points.

There has been a void in the first five-eighth position over the past two seasons but my choice is Chris Finch.

He was a gutsy defender, always prepared to take the ball to the line, an astute kicker and above all, he was a prolific goal-kicker.

The choice of halfback comes down to two classy players, Ryan McCarthy and Kilifi Fangupo.

My nod goes narrowly to Fangupo, whose ability to break open an opposition defence won the Meads Cup final against Wanganui in 2007.

Three names stand out at number eight: Tevita Fifta (Athletic), Regan Laughton (Kurow) and Joe Mamea (Old Boys).

Because of his explosive power from the back of the scrum with the ball in hand Tevita Fifita gets the job.

Openside flanker is a no-contest for Ross Hay, who played his 100th first-class game for North Otago against Poverty Bay last weekend.

He was Heartland player of the year in 2008 and is by far the first choice.

For the blindside flank there are a number of options: Matt Clutterbuck, Adam Kettle, Ray Ofisa, Viliami Leo, Seko Quaraniqio and Englishman Tom Wood.

Ray (Razor) Ofisa gets the jersey against staunch competition.

Robert Borst and Hunter Darry were probably past their prime when wearing the North Otago jersey but when it comes to locks they were in the picture.

Gary Ford, Noa Soqeta, Campbell McKenzie, Chris Planchant, Nathan Archibald, Mark Comb and Taua Limuloa made strong statements but my two first-choice locks are Campbell McKenzie and Nathan Archibald.

I've gone for Jeff Wilson and Hotili Asi as props, with Barry Fox captaining the side from the hooker's berth.

Billy Laing, Atalea Katoa, Lotu Tonga, Toe Hausia and Pita Fifita were other likely candidates.

On the bench would be Tobias Sekona (hooker), Regan Laughton for his ability to play in any position in the pack, Chris Planchant and Adam Kettle.

Ryan McCarthy is the reserve halfback with Nathan Cunningham because of his versatility, and Scott Mayhew the other reserve back.

The team is: Luke Herden, Pila Fifita, Fepikou Tatafu, Mike Mavor, Watisoni Lotawa, Chris Finch, Kalifi Fangupo; Tevita Fifita, Ross Hay, Ray Ofisa, Campbell McKenzie, Nathan Archibald, Jeff Wilson, Hotili Asi, Barry Fox (c).

Reserves: Tobias Sekona, Regan Laughton, Chris Planchant, Adam Kettle, Ryan McCarthy, Nathan Cunningham, Scott Mayhew.


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