Club rugby kicks off on Saturday

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 27/03/2014

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Swindale Shield success has much to do with what happens over summer.

And so Wellington's premier club rugby competition kicks off on Saturday with high hopes for the movers and shakers and trepidation for those who stood still during the off-season.

During that time no club has gone further than the Upper Hutt Rams, the merger of two clubs that have consistently sat among the also-rans of the premier grade.

Upper Hutt's record since they won the Swindale Shield in 2005 has been one of frustration for a club that's had talent, but not the depth to kick on at the business end of the season.

Four straight top-eight Jubilee Cup appearances from 2009 to 2012, yielded the club just three wins.

And down the road at Rimutaka, the thrill of gaining promotion to premier rugby in 2012 quickly faded as the top side lost 22 matches on the trot.

But the buzz is back out Maidstone Park way as the 2014 season kicks off and hopes are high ahead of the Rams first match against Old Boys University.

"Last year I ended up with 10 of my starting side out by the time we got to the Hardham Cup semifinal and the senior firsts lost every game by 60 or 70 points," Rams coach Nathan Williams said yesterday.

"You are forced to pull players up and it becomes a bit of a shambles.

"There's a tad more depth this year, so that's been great."

The arrival of Canterbury loose forward Taniela Manu, brother of Highlanders No 8 Nasi, is a boost in a position that looks to be a major strength.

Former Wellington and Blues No 8 Matt Luamanu is on deck for the first half of the season after returning from a stint in Japan, while Sam Wasley comes with a reputation out of Hutt International Boys. In the backs first five-eighth Liam Berry is back from Italy to run the show, while flying Fijian wing Tupeni Kamakorewa is a good pick up from demoted Wests.

The loss of halfback Kayne Hammington is a blow, but Williams can't help but feel positive as the local community gets in behind the new initiative.

"We lost our first three last year, but this team [is better] prepared, we've had a better pre- season.

"The money from the local community that's come in has been brilliant. There is heaps of sponsorship, everyone's excited."

Closer to the city, there's a more anxious feel around Helston Park where Johnsonville coach Mason Lawrence admits its been a tough time for the club since it won promotion when suburban neighbours Wests were deducted points for fielding an ineligible player.

"It's exciting, but it's going to be a significant challenge for sure," Lawrence said. "We have a very young squad and it's been a bit disappointing more of the senior players at the club haven't jumped at the chance to play premier rugby."

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Compounding matters, J'ville have lost co-captains Louis Karl and James Faatuatu and star lock Tovio Apollo whose over at Marist St Pat's.

There are plenty of other talking points ahead of round one.

Defending Swindale Shield and Jubilee Cup champions Tawa have new coaches in Logan Ili and Katsu Takeuchi and welcome back New Zealand sevens star George Tilsley as well as utility back Tu Umaga-Marshall.

Beaten finalists Oriental Rongotai have lost first five-eighth Fa'atonu Fili, who is back at Marist St Pat's, but have a strong new halves pairing in James Proctor, back from Australia, and Rimutaka halfback Isaac Marriner

Former British and Irish Lions midfielder Riki Flutey will help a young Petone side that will also feature Napier Boys' High School fullback Sam McNicol.

Loose forward Dean Poneke welcome back injured captain and loose forward Galu Taufale and will have high hopes for Wellington College first-five Pakai Turia. to fill a problem position.

Lock Ross Kennedy returns to Old Boys University, while HOB Marist and Wainuiomata have reasonably settled squads.

HOW THE CLUB TEAMS LINE UP

Tawa

Coaches: Logan Ili and Katsu Takeuchi

Captain: Taniela Koroi (prop)

Gains: James Coburn (prop, Norths), Daiki Yanagawa (lock/blindside, Japan), Phillip Finau (halfback, year off), George Tilsley (wing, Manawatu), Tu Umaga-Marshall (wing/centre, Japan)

Losses: Livingston Finau (prop, retired), Brian Burridge (lock, long-term injury), Steve So'oialo (halfback, coaching), Timoci Seruwalu (centre, Manawatu)

Last year: Swindale Shield and Jubilee Cup champions

Oriental-Rongotai

Coach: Sandy McConnell

Captain: Whetu Henry (prop)

Gains: Hunter Prescott (hooker, Otago), Kenape Alefaio (prop, MSP), Liam Hallam- Eaves (lock, Palmerston North BHS/WRFU Academy), Isaac Marriner (halfback, Rimutaka), James Curr (midfield, England), James Proctor (first five-eighth, Australia)

Losses: Fa'atonu Fili (first five-eighth, MSP), Kelepi Halafihi (lock, Tonga), Joe Maiava (No 8, Australia), Sean Hay (halfback, overseas), Leo Liua'ana (wing, overseas), Poasa Poasa (hooker, Auckland after Rd 3)

Last year: 2nd Swindale Shield, Jubilee Cup semifinalist

Hutt Old Boys Marist

Coaches: Matt Lee and Adam Campbell

Captain: Jason Risdon (loose forward)

Gains: Chris Vailalo (lock, UK), Henry Grey- Wilson (flanker, Samoa), Sheridan Rangihuna (halfback, Hawkes Bay), Chase Tiatia (first five-eighth/fullback, St Pat's Silverstream/WRFU Academy), Parataiso Silifai-Leanna (midfield, long-term injury), Frances Tanuvasa (wing/centre, Hutt Valley HS), Josh Rauluni (utility back, Wests)

Losses: Manual Efaraimo (hooker, year off), Polanga Pedro (lock, retirement), George Amosa (loose forward, Australia), Brandyn Laursen (first five-eighth, Tasman), Reuben Colquhoun (wing/centre, Australia), James Kusel (outside back, long-term injury)

Last year: 3rd Swindale Shield, beaten Jubilee Cup semifinalists

Wainuiomata

Coach: Justin Wilson

Co-captains: John Monu (first five-eighth) and Greg Leolifi (loose forward)

Gains: Greg Leolifi (flanker, Counties), Ben Tupuola (No 8, rugby league), Michael Lealava'a (midfield, Tasman), Josh Robertson-Weepu (fullback, St Pat's Silverstream/WRFU Academy)

Losses: None

Last year: 4th Swindale Shield, 6th Jubilee Cup

Marist St Pat's

Coaches: Ross Bond and Brendan Reidy

Captain: TBA

Gains: Fa'atonu Fili (first five-eighth, Ories), Ryan Setefano (utility back, Tasman), Frank Fa'atau (prop, Ories), Adam Blake (first five- eighth, Havelock North), James Aubury (wing, UK), Matt Peni (No 8, Counties Manukau), Tovio Apollo (lock, J'ville).

Losses: Lui Taituave (hooker, Australia), Aviata Filago (first five eighth, France), Jackson Martin (fullback, work)

Last year: 5th Swindale Shield, 5th Jubilee Cup

Petone

Coaches: Peter Green with Rodney So'oialo and Alex Telea

Captain: Mateaki Kafatolu (loose forward)

Gains: Sam McNicol (fullback, Hawkes Bay/ Napier BHS), Willie Tufui (Midfield, Naenae College), Belgium Tuatagaloa (wing, Canterbury), James Blackwell (lock/loosie, Wellington College/WRFU Academy), Riki Flutey (utility back, Japan), Keanu Moran (centre/wing, St Pats Silverstream), Adrian Barone (Prop, Hawkes Bay/Crusaders), Aleks Noble-Campbell (wing, St Pat's Town), Rolani Lepupa (Loose Forward, Wests), Tamati Samuels (First five-eighth/fullback, Hawkes Bay), Kenny Anderson (Prop, Poneke)

Losses: Darren Munro, back (Wanganui), Andrew Davidge (Injured), Sam O'Leary (season-off), Jack Wolfreys (Dunedin), Thomas Tupuivao (prop, retired), Chris Molenaar (lock, retired), Wiremu Adds (study)

Last year: 6th Swindale Shield, 8th Jubilee Cup

Old Boys-University

Coaches: Phil Proctor and Ray McDonald

Captain: TBC

Gains: Teariki Ben-Nicholas (No8, Kings College Auckland, WRFU Academy), Thomas Brown (first-five-eighth/fullback, Taranaki), Mitch Clarke (flanker, Otago), Wes Goosen (midfield, Wellington College/WRFU Academy), Na Ioane (lock, Tawa), Ross Kennedy (lock, Canterbury), Greg Mulanay (Australia), Matt Mulaney (hooker, Wests), Tomasi Palu (halfback, Norths), Luke Tau'alupe (loose forward, Wellington College)

Losses: Andrew Smith (flanker, overseas), Thomas Fleming (No 8, overseas), Ti Pairama-Lewington (midfield, overseas)

Last year: 7th Swindale Shield, Jubilee Cup semifinalist

Poneke

Coach: Shane McClure

Captain: Galu Taufale

Gains: Soti Fa'amausili (prop, Wests), Connor Maddax-Wikaera (hooker, Kings College Auckland, WRFU Academy), Sam Johnson (lock, HOBM), Ray Treviranus (loose forward, Samoa), Galu Taufale (loose forward, injury), Joseph Scheres (loose forward, Waikato), Tom Hiratsuka (halfback, overseas), Pakai Turia (first five-eighth, Wellington College/WRFU Academy)

Losses: Andrew Castle (hooker, long-term injury), Kelvin Harper (hooker, injury), Kenny Anderson (prop, Petone), Benji Marshall (prop, work), Presley Tufaga (lock, Auckland), Darren West (lock, work), Sam Reddy (lock, work), Greg Foe (loose forward, Samoa 7s), Sam Tui (loose forward, injury), Samisoni Fisilau (halfback, Bay of Plenty), Brad Faulkner (halfback, retirement), Kaito Morikawa (midfield, Japan), Tolly Auva'a (midfield, work), James Pointon (midfield, injury), Peter Shand (wing, injury), Evan Belford (wing, management)

Last year: 8th Swindale Shield, 7th Jubilee Cup

Northern United

Coaches: Thomas Perenara, Shane Pihema and Alphonso Parsons

Captain: Aidan Cains (hooker)

Gains: Leni Aipasi (hooker, Wellington College/WRFU Academy) Lance Mann (lock, Wests), Genki Hasegawa (wing, Japan), Feka Silva (centre, Australia), Connor Feaunati (centre, Australia), Dudley Parsons (first five-eighth, Australia), Thomas Atialoa (wing, MSP)

Losses: Dean Brunsdon (flanker, Wellington), Tomasi Palu (halfback, OBU)

Last year: 9th Swindale Shield, Hardham Cup champions

Upper Hutt Rams

Coaches: Nathan Williams, Tiny Graham and Jamie Williams

Co-captains: Josh Hunt and Anaru Rangi

Gains: Taniela Manu (loose forward, Canterbury), Matt Luamanu (No 8, Japan), Liam Berry (first five-eighth, Italy), Tupeni Kamokorewa (wing, Wests), Sam Wasley (loose forward, Hutt International Boys)

Losses: Kayne Hammington (halfback, Manawatu)

Last year: Upper Hutt: 10th Swindale Shield, Hardham Cup semifinalist. Rimutaka: 12th Swindale Shield, 8th Hardham Cup

Wellington Axemen

Co-coaches: Tracy Smith and Richard Deck with Grand Cederwall

Captain: Tala Kitekei'hao (hooker)

Gains: Dean Brunsdon (loose forward, Norths), Simon Shearer (lock, Wests), Thomas Ray (lock, USA), James Ford (loose forward, Australia), Mitchell Stewart (hooker, Poneke), Eamon Chapman (openside, Brisbane), David West (first five eighth/ fullback, Australia), Terry Kitekei'aho (loose forward, Ories), Matt Goosen (halfback, Wests), Nick Butterworth (halfback, Wales), Ryan Selkirk (midfield, Johnsonville), Damien Winter (prop, Wests), Jaco de Waal (centre, South Africa), Sam Gard'ner (loose forward, Waikanae)

Losses: Cameron Lyndsey (lock, South Africa), Harry Dommett (wing, UK), Dave Wildash (first five-eighth, retired), Justin Earl (No 8, retired), Manu Maihi-Ionae (blindside, army), Wiremu Darlington (midfield, Australia)

Last year: 2nd Harper Lock Shield, Hardham Cup semifinalist

Johnsonville

Coach: Mason Lawrence

Co-captains: Corey Lawrence and Deina Morete

Gains: Andrew Newsome (prop, Wests)

Losses: Louis Karl (openside, work), James Faatuatu (centre, England), Tovio Apolo (lock, MSP)

Last year: Harper Lock Shield champions, 4th Hardham Cup*

*Promoted after Wests Roosters had points deducted for fielding an ineligible player

- Wellington

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