Tawa set to carry on as they were

Club rugby season kicks off in the capital

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 29/03/2014

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New Tawa coach Logan Ili isn't one to talk it up, but the defending Swindale Shield champions clearly don't plan to be a one-hit wonder.

Wellington premier club rugby kicks off today in what looks to be one of the most wide-open first rounds of recent times. Follow today's matches with the new, free Waterboy App

The re-emergence of the Wellington Axemen and the newly formed Upper Hutt Rams has thrown a couple of wildcards into the mix, while the demotion of the Wests Roosters has scattered some decent talent across the 12 competing clubs.

There is a tentative feel to newly promoted Johnsonville, but most sides appear to have, on paper at least, realistic top eight credentials.

Tawa sit atop that list after a summer spent celebrating a rare Swindale Shield-Jubilee Cup double and will start their defence as warm favourites against Hutt Old Boys Marist at Lyndhurst Park.


WELLINGTON CLUB RUGBY 2014

Match reports will be online from 9am the day after the games at dompost.co.nz


Being viewed as a club heavyweight is a new experience for the Lyndhurst Park faithful, but Ili doesn't think expectation will affect his side.

''The club has worked tirelessly and for me the success last year was all about that unity,'' he said. ''I think the club has that down to a T. It's about culture and its about working hard on the top floor and the committee's work has filtered down to the shop floor.''

Ili has come up from within after coaching the senior first side to the Ed Chaney Cup and knows there is depth to back up a premier squad full of talent.

Having Samoan international James So'oialo at first five-eighth from the start is a major boost after he missed the first half of 2013.

And former Wellington and Canterbury centre Tu Umaga-Marshall is a timely replacement for last year's star midfielder Timoci Seruwalu, who is playing in the Manawatu.

But Tawa's strength remains up front where captain and tighthead prop Taniela Koroi inspires a big and mobile pack.

Koroi's front-row partners, loose head Tolu Fahamokioa and hooker Lotu Nuku, openside Sam Blair, and blindside Filisione Koloamatangi all enhanced their reputations last season, while Wellington Lion Pati Gaualofa adds some experience at lock.

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But Ili said he and assistant Katsu Takeuchi didn't want the side to be known simply for their ability to crunch opponents up front.

''There always has to be other strings to your bow and we've worked a lot on our strengths, but also tried to prime our work-ons,'' he said. ''We think we have a forward pack that can feed the ball to a pretty mean backline and we'll certainly be using the backs a hell of a lot this year.

''We can play 10-man rugby, that's great, but there are 15 men out there, so we'll be using them.''

If that's the case their opening match will be one to watch against a HOBM side with talent to burn in a backline under the guidance of young first five-eighth Chase Tiatia.

He'd do well to give plenty of ball to centre Opeta Peleseuma and fullback Glen Walters.

Tiatia is typical of the youthful nature of premier rugby and there are plenty of young and untested stars spread through the competition.

If there is a dark horse it could be Wainuiomata who look settled and could kick on after finishing fourth in the Swindale Shield last year.

John Monu is a solid first five-eighth and will have a strong midfield of Marvin Karawana and Michael Lealava'a outside him against Oriental Rongotai at the Polo Ground where Ken Kapeli will steer last year's Swindale Shield runners-up around the park.

Northern United will boast a super-sized backline at Porirua against Marist St Pat's in a match that should be close.

Wellington will field an internationally flavoured side against a young Petone side as premier rugby returns to Hataitai Park.

The Axemen's lineup includes Australian sprinter David West at fullback, South African Jaco de Waal at second five-eighth and Biarritz recruit Paddy Hughes at centre.

Brothers Ross and Ian Kennedy lock the Old Boys University scrum against the Rams in what's sure to be a spirited occasion at Maidstone Park, while Poneke are something of an unknown quantity as they take on Johnsonville at Helston Park.

DRAW (all games kick off at 3pm today)

Tawa v Hutt Old Boys Marist at Lyndhurst Park

Northern United v Marist St Pat's at Porirua Park

Johnsonville v Poneke at Helston Park

Upper Hutt Rams v Old Boys University at Maidstone Park

Wellington v Petone at Hataitai Park

Oriental Rongotai v Wainuiomata at the Polo Ground

- The Dominion Post

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