Southland better placed this season

Elliot Dixon
Elliot Dixon
Southland's squad for the Mitre 10 Cup includes two Australians and some names from the past.

Highlanders No 8 Elliot Dixon has been selected but there is no guarantee he will take the field as his contract with Japanese club Ricoh has priority.

Southland had experienced a forgettable couple of years in the provincial competition and has not won a game since 2016.

Second-year coach Dave Hewett said to break the drought was obviously the aim and he felt the team was much better placed this season.

Last year the new coaching team had only been in place for about eight weeks while this year they were much better organised, he said.

Players had put the hard work in at training and there had been a real pick-up in intensity.

Lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit has been named in the squad but will not play after having a back operation 10 days ago. He had a couple of injured discs in his back and, although he could have played on, in consultation with the Highlanders it was decided to have the operation and make sure he was right for the next Super Rugby season.

Former Southland lock Mike McKee has come back into the squad after a spell playing for the Asian Pacific Dragons in Singapore.

Seb Wileman, back from the the Reds, has joined the team in the midfield while Brumbies outside back Lausii Taliauli is also included.

After taking last season off, Scott Eade is back in the squad and he will share the first five-eighth duties with new signing Marty McKenzie, who comes home after time away in other parts of the country.

Mitchell Taylor is the third first five-eighth in the group. James Wilson has gone to Japan.

Halfbacks Jay Renton and Nico Costa will be joined by Taranaki's Logan Crowley, who got crowded out up north. He is the nephew of Kieran and Leo Crowley and Hewett said he had contributed well since joining the squad.

Young hooker Flynn Thomas has had an operation on his shoulder but has been back playing for a month while Brayden Mitchell has come through his neck injury. The experienced Greg Pleasants-Tate will also add some steel in the front row.

Dixon's availability to get on the field was still unclear as, with a lucrative Japanese contract awaiting next year, he could not afford to get injured. He may help in and around the team, Hewett said.

The team has been handicapped in its pre-season as it could not play Otago as it is facing the blue and golds in a Ranfurly Shield challenge early in the season.

Another possible opponent in North Otago has games against Otago and Otago Country.

Southland will have a contested training run with various scenarios today and will take on an invitational team up of Pacific Island players and others next Saturday.

It will then play Canterbury in Oamaru on August 2.

The side will open the Mitre 10 Cup against Northland at Rugby Park Stadium on August 8, the first game in the competition.

It would be as good as any game to end the side's 21-game losing streak dating back to October, 2016.

No captain has been named and nothing had been decided, Hewett said. It may depend on the stage of the season and player loads. Co-captains were likely to be favoured.

Southland

2019 Mitre 10 Cup squad

Joe Walsh, Ethan De Groot, Chris Apoua, Shaun Stodart, Morgan Mitchell, Flynn Thomas, Brayden Mitchell, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Ben Fotheringham, Ray Tatafu, Mike McKee, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Ben Paulin, Taine Te Whata, Charles Alaimalo, Matt James, Phil Halder, Bill Fukofuka, Pasilio Tosi, Elliot Dixon, Jay Renton, Nico Costa, Logan Crowley, Mitchell Taylor, Scott Eade, Marty McKenzie, Ray Nu’u, Javaan Fa’amoa Ioane, Seb Wileman, Moses Faletolu, Lewis Ormond, Isaac Te 
Tamiki, Rory Van Vugt, Josh Moorby, Lauusii Taliauli.

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