Pack will muscle-up, says Jeremy Thrush
Wellington rugby is traditionally associated with free-flowing backline play but Lions captain Jeremy Thrush says Wellington's forward pack will surprise ITM Cup opponents with their "mongrel" this season.
The 27-year-old Hurricanes lock has been retained as captain following a disappointing 2011 campaign that led to coach Andre Bell losing his job.
But new Lions coach Chris Boyd has backed the leadership of Thrush, who will be able to lean on the experience of returning lock Ross Filipo and new first-five Tim Bateman.
"He's [Boyd] given us a bit of freedom to attack when we need to but I think people might be a little bit surprised," said Thrush at yesterday's season launch, where Boyd unveiled a 33-man squad containing no real surprises.
"As a forward pack we want to dominate and get a bit of mongrel into us and some physicality with what we do.
"I think some people might be surprised with the way we play the game this year and be happily surprised."
Boyd yesterday trimmed 10 players from the wider training squad: forwards Liu Taituave, Eric Sione, Joe Latta, Deon Carney and Kaipati Gaualofa, and backs Tomasi Palu, Seminar Manu, Fa'atonu Fili, Ambrose Curtis and Faatau Mamea.
Wellington kick off their season against Manawatu in Palmerston North on Friday night and Boyd identified Canterbury - chasing its fifth successive national provincial title - and Taranaki as among the competition favourites.
"Canterbury obviously are going to be hard to beat, they lose a lot of guys to the All Blacks but they've got a lot of guys in their programme so they'll be tough to beat," Boyd said.
"I think Taranaki, they have a fairly solid roster, and if they can keep their best team on the paddock then I think they'll be hard to beat.
"Auckland have got a very young side but I read the other day that they're pretty confident they're going to do well. Waikato have been beaten finalists in the last couple of years, I think they'll be tough. There's not going to be too many easy games."
Injured trio TJ Perenara, Brad Shields and Lima Sopoaga were included in Boyd's squad, although Shields' serious knee injury will almost certainly rule him out of the entire season.
Impressive halfback Perenara is an outside chance to return from his ankle injury at the business end of the competition, while Highlanders first-five Sopoaga is targeting a midseason return from his shoulder injury.
"While it's disappointing to lose TJ and Lima's not back yet, I've been really happy with the way Frae Wilson's played at 9 and Tim Bateman's a natural 10," Boyd said.
"He's probably more suited in his personality type to a 10 than a 12 - and his physical make-up."