Rugby: Raising cash the key to Otago's player chase

ORFU chairman Wayne Graham (left) and NZRU chief executive Steve Tew break the news to supporters...
ORFU chairman Wayne Graham (left) and NZRU chief executive Steve Tew break the news to supporters and officials. Photos by Linda Robertson and ODT files.
Otago rugby is building a war chest as it tries to find three or four key players in what it views as a critical year.

Otago Rugby Football Union chairman Wayne Graham said the board had started approaching the Otago community as it sought to raise funds to help the side build.

"It is obvious that 2010 is a very critical year for the union, and to finish in the top seven is absolutely vital," Graham said.

"We are critically short of about three or four players who could make the difference and are seeking people and businesses to assist us to build a team that can be competitive this year.

"We are fighting against the likes of Canterbury, Auckland, Wellington, even Southland, who have deep pockets. We've got to be competitive. You've got to be fighting with all of your ammunition when you go into battle."

The provincial competition, known as the ITM Cup, consists of 14 teams this year and is shaping up to be a cutthroat competition.

The top seven teams will qualify for next year's premiership, while the bottom seven sides will play in the lower championship.

Otago finished 10th in each of the past two years of the provincial championship, so needs to improve significantly to move up into the top seven.

Graham said he had in mind the figure he wanted to raise but he wanted to keep it to himself for now.

Deputy chairman Laurie Mains told a function last week the union had raised $200,000 and was keen to add to that.

Graham said players were scarce but there were a few around, and they did not come cheap.

"We are talking a few dollars but it is just amazing how people are prepared to contribute and show how passionate they are about Otago rugby.

"If you go back 10 or 15 years, that is what we used to do. But for whatever reason we've gone away from that."

Graham said there were many people around the province who wanted to get involved with Otago rugby.

"People are prepared to help and some people can do that with financial assistance while others can do what they can."

Graham was elected chairman in March as part of a new-look board.

"We are only just starting and chipping away but we want to get good things in place for the future of Otago rugby.

"These players we can get can make a difference now while we are building our own. We need some good players for this year's campaign and have been lucky with a coach like Phil [Mooney], who has seen what areas we need [to fill]."

Mooney said players were needed on the wing and in the midfield, while injuries had left the hooking ranks thin. Prop was another position the side needed to bolster.

Otago has been boosted by the re-signing last month of captain and openside flanker Alando Soakai, who will remain in the south after spurning an offer from Auckland.

Graham said other unions were also looking for ways to improve.

"We haven't been very good at it in recent years but the board wants to be working hard on things."

With former Reds coach Mooney having connections to Australia, players from across the Tasman, such as Brumbies utility back Julian Huxley and Reds midfielder Morgan Turinui, may be options for Otago.

The New Zealand player market is tight, though many players do not tie themselves to provincial unions after turning out for Super 14 franchises.

Otago missed out on a rare talent when fullback Tim Nanai-Williams re-signed with Counties-Manukau this week.


- Otago Daily Times rugby writer Steve Hepburn analyses the positions Otago might look to bolster:

Wing: With the departure of Karne Hesketh to Japan, someone with similar explosive power and pace is needed.

Midfield: Brett Mather has gone north and Ryan Shortland may be better suited to the wing. Andrew Parata is an option at second five-eighth, while Glenn Dickson is a player who could wear the No 12 jersey.

Hooker: Peter Mirrielees played well last year, but there do not appear to be too many back-ups, as injury has wiped out Jason Macdonald and Sam Anderson-Heather. Experienced campaigner Jed Vercoe is back playing club rugby.

Prop: Kees Meeuws is nearer 40 than 30, Sam Hibbard is coming back from a hernia operation and Ben Nolan is in the mines in Western Australia but is rumoured to be returning.

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