Wellington's national interprovincial title credentials could be known as early as today when they face fellow contenders Manawatu-Whanganui in a tense local derby.
The two rivals square off this morning at Dunedin's Balmacewen course in the feature clash of round one in the 15-team event. Both have the afternoon bye so the winners will be in solid shape after the first day in a group also including Auckland and defending champions Southland.
"It's the best way to have it. Both teams are fresh and know what they have to do. If we manage to win that, it takes a huge amount of pressure off us for the week," Wellington coach Geoff Smart said.
"They've proven very tough for us to beat over the past three or four years; they're always troublesome, probably because the guys know each other pretty well."
Wellington won their 13th title at Paraparaumu Beach two years ago then narrowly missed the semifinals at Poverty Bay last year after an upset loss to Northland. From that lineup, No 1 Marc Jennings, No 4 Adam Church and No 5 Peter Brinsdon are back but Wellington are without Ben Campbell, who's turned professional, and Thomas Spearman-Burn, who's completing a ban from rep golf for poor on-course behaviour.
The new additions are No 2 Fraser Maclachlan, from Royal Wellington, and No 3 James Donnelly, from Miramar. Maclachlan was based in Queensland for much of the past year to further his game and joined the team in Dunedin direct from a tournament in Melbourne.
Manawatu-Whanganui are the team on the rise, headed by New Zealand rep Josh Munn, his highly-rated younger brother Trent, and Wellington strokeplay champion Lachie McDonald.
"They beat us earlier in the year and some of their players have done really well nationally. They're probably favoured over us and we're the underdogs but that's fine, we're quite happy with that," Church said.
Smart coaches Wellington for a fourth year and rates the 2012 edition the best prepared.
They spent six hours at the course on Sunday and their attention to detail included spirit levels to read each green. Their respective short games were put under the microscope yesterday.
"That's where it all happens every year; whether you can putt well and chip well," Smart said.
Church, who captained Wellington to victory in 2010 and is the only survivor from that team, pronounced himself fit after battling a side strain in recent weeks. He started hitting balls again only last Tuesday, played his first full round on Sunday and was confident of seeing out the week.
"My preparation has been pretty bad, personally. I've been out for a while and had a lot of rehab and I've just come right in time," he said. "I felt better than I expected [on Sunday]."
Balmacewen is a punishing, hilly layout which would test the players' fitness, especially playing two rounds per day.
Wellington reserve Brayden Mazey, a teenager from Carterton who had an excellent year in interclub, was likely to play at some stage this week.
Another of Wellington's group opponents, Waikato, include Tom Brockelsby, who starred in Wellington's 2010 title, and Steven Kuggeleijn, brother of Firebirds cricketer Scott.
The top two from each group progress to Saturday's semifinals, with Bay of Plenty and Canterbury the leading contenders from the other group.
Teams (in playing order):
Northland: Luke Brown, Alex Neely, Chase McKeown, Sean Masters, Brad Bonnington. Reserve: Kadin Neho.
North Harbour: Cameron Jones, Kevin Budden, James Davis, David Feeney, Jason Gulasekharam. Reserve: Harry Yang.
Auckland: Sam An, Nick Voke, Tae Koh, Jonny Ratcliffe, Josh Leitch. Reserve: Shiv Sabherwal.
Waikato: Compton Pikari, Luke Toomey, Tom Brockelsby, Ho Jun Sung, Steven Kuggeleijn. Reserve: Nick Coxon.
Bay of Plenty: Brad Kendall, Peter Lee, Sam Davis, Victor Janin, Landyn Edwards. Reserve: William Howard.
Hawke's Bay: Richard Squire, Ben Swinburne, Russell Mitchell, Max Gill, Madison Noakes. Reserve: Carlos Tawera.
Poverty Bay: Steven Donnelly, Andrew Higham, William Brown, Ruel Pedersen, Matthew Mackey. Reserve: Tony Ackroyd.
Taranaki: Brad Hayward, Jaime Reid, Zac Lewis, Joseph Doyle, Brook Gray. Reserve: John Newland.
Manawatu-Whanganui: Josh Munn, Lachie McDonald, Trent Munn, Junior Tatana, Hayden Ring. Reserve: Willie Steer.
Wellington: Marc Jennings, Fraser Maclachlan, James Donnelly, Adam Church, Peter Brinsdon. Reserve: Brayden Mazey.
Tasman: Blair Riordan, Hamish Campbell, Ryan Chisnall, Glen Drummond, Nick Ludbrook. Reserve: Tom Dasler.
Canterbury: Jordan Bakermans, Owen Burgess, Harry Bateman, Nic Kay, Tom Turner. Reserve: Jason Yoo.
Aorangi: Cameron Grant, Jordan Green, Garth Simpson, Damian Rodgers, George Wardell. Reserve: Matthew McLean.
Otago: Brent McEwan, Michael Smith, Samson Kim, Brandon Hodgson, Tony Giles. Reserve: Mark Collie.
Southland: Tyler McLean, Scott Hellier, Liam Balneaves, Jeremy Hall, Matt Tautari. Reserve: Kyle Dobbie.
- The Dominion Post
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