Lions coach Chris Boyd's talent quest will continue when a Wellington XV plays Manawatu at the Hutt Recreation Ground tomorrow.
Injuries to prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, hooker Motu Matu'u and loose forwards Ardie Savea and Victor Vito have left Boyd's stocks a little battered two weeks before the start of the national provincial championship.
Toomaga-Allen injured a knee playing for Marist St Pats in the Jubilee Cup semifinals last weekend. Matu'u and Savea injured their shoulders playing for Oriental Rongotai, while Vito is battling a bulging disc in his neck.
Just how serious those injuries are will not be known until the weekend.
In the meantime, several promising players will get a chance to impress against the Turbos.
"This match is a continuation of the filtering process of guys who have been very good in club football and to see whether we can have confidence in them to perform while taking the next step up," Boyd said.
"It's a mixture of experienced guys and some good honest club guys."
Should Savea and Vito not make the season start line, an option at openside flanker may be needed.
Upper Hutt youngster Taniela Manu, the younger brother of Highlanders No 8 Nasi Manu, gets the first chance to impress, while Boyd may also take a keen interest in Sunday's Jubilee Cup final, where Hutt Old Boys Marist captain Jason Risdon and his Wainuiomata opposite, Greg Lealofi, have been quality performers all season.
Centre and first five-eighth are the other two areas where the Lions look a little light, and Boyd makes no secret of the fact that he is still weighing his options for the No 13 jersey.
Hurricanes wing-fullback Matt Proctor will share half a game with Conrad Smith against Manawatu, the latter at the request of the All Blacks coaches, who are keen to give their veteran midfielder some valuable game time before the Rugby Championship.
The other midfielder in the mix is Old Boys University's Wes Goosen, who will play second five-eighth against the Turbos but is likely to get a chance to press his claims at No 13 in the team's final pre-season match against Canterbury next week.
Riki Flutey will run the ship from first-five outside Petone clubmate Jared Kahu, with New Zealand under-20s player Jackson Garden-Bachop providing cover from the bench.
With Highlanders halfback Frae Wilson expected to need minor knee surgery, halfback could also be a concern, and the performance of Kahu and livewire Old Boys University halfback Matt O'Connor off the bench will hold some intrigue.
Other young players worth watching include last year's New Zealand secondary schools hooker, Leni Apisai, of Northern United, Wellington loose forward Vaea Fifita and big Upper Hutt lock Christian Lloyd.
Wainui fullback Tau Mamea will miss Sunday's Jubilee Cup final because of religious reasons but gets a run at fullback on the same ground, while former New Zealand sevens players Belgium Tuatagaloa and Ambrose Curtis are on the wings.
"One thing I will say about this group is yep, we are down on experience a little and we don't have a few of the big names right now, but they have rolled their sleeves up this week and have been very enthusiastic in training," Boyd said.
"I'd be surprised if they delivered a flat performance."
Players not involved in the match are Melbourne Rebels fullback Jason Woodward, who arrived home in Wellington yesterday, locks Ross Filipo (Chiefs) and Mark Reddish (Hurricanes), and midfielder Shaun Treeby (Highlanders), who will all join the squad next week.
Wellington – Tau Mamea, Ambrose Curtis, Matt Proctor, Wes Goosen, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Riki Flutey, Jasred Kahu, Adam Hill, Taniela Manu, Vaea Fifita, Christian Lloyd, Kaipati Gaualofa, Eric Sione, Len Apisai, Tolu Fahamokioa. Reserves: Reggie Goodes, Taniela Koroi, Api Naikatini, Brad Shields, Matt O'Connor, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Conrad Smith, Afa Fa'atau.
Manawatu – Nehe Milner-Skudder, Newton Tudreu, Jason Emery, Hamish Northcott, Hamiora Thomas, Otere Black, Kayne Hammington, James Oliver, Antonio Kiri Kiri, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Fraser Stone, Tom Hughes, Tim Cadwallader, Rob Foreman, Hubert Buydens.
Kickoff: 3pm tomorrow.
- The Dominion Post
Who was the best player for the Wellington Lions in 2013?Related story: Who was the best for the Wellington Lions in 2013?