Booth living his Turbos dream

BACK IN THE SADDLE: Manawatu halfback Jamie Booth has come a long way since his horrific leg injury.
BACK IN THE SADDLE: Manawatu halfback Jamie Booth has come a long way since his horrific leg injury.

A year ago, Jamie Booth was on crutches and a brace watching the Manawatu Turbos playing at Napier, just two months after his horrendous leg injury.

After several operations and intensive rehabilitation, he was way ahead of schedule when he made his Turbos' debut in the win over Wellington on Friday, and scored a try to boot.

"I was pretty happy just to be playing footie and for the development team." he said. "It feels almost like a dream, especially Friday night."

It continues tonight with Booth starting at No 9 against Bay of Plenty. The door was opened for him when Papa Wharewera injured his ankle against Auckland, although Booth said he didn't want to get in that way.

In his last year at Palmerston North in 2012 he was the New Zealand Schools halfback, famed for scoring explosive tries from long range. He did just that for the Manawatu Development XV two weeks ago .

So is the gas back to where it was?

"It's getting there, " he said. "I still don't think it's there.

"I probably need a good off-season to get back to where it was."

It looked more than good enough in his 34 minutes against Wellington, and when he scored his try off the shoulder off first-five Otere Black.

"He could easily have scored both of those tries. Otere is as cool as a cucumber.

"He talked to me the whole time and Nehe [Milner-Skudder] had huge chatter."

"It was a pretty sweet feeling, one of those moments that's cool. I was doing what any halfback is meant to and running positive lines."

Booth, who turns 20 in 10 days' time, will still need quick, quality ball from the pack. With most referees pinging defending teams at rucks, if they're going forward they're less likely to incur their wrath.

Both sides tonight have 19-year-old first-fives with Bay of Plenty's Dan Hollinshead just out of Tauranga Boys' College.

It is unusual for the Turbos to go into a match with four locks in their 22, although Nick Crosswell can shift to loose forward. Keepa Mewett is from Bay of Plenty so maybe they know too much about him while Fraser Stone deserved a start for his graft.

It would be good for the Turbos to monopolise possession, to reduce enemy try-scoring chances and to take the pressure off the tacklers.

Bay of Plenty might have conceded 136 points in three games after losing 34-23 to Southland, 56-27 to Tasman at Mt Maunganui and 41-3 to Taranaki, and their defence is an issue. But the Turbos cannot take their eye off the ball in this one. The Steamers, relegated from the Premiership last season, will be desperate.

Manawatu forwards coach Jeremy Cotter was among them last year so will know the players. Coach Kevin Schuler was once a Manawatu favourite son when an All Black from Varsity.

Only seven of his XV started against Taranaki. He has lost hooker Nathan Harris to the All Blacks squad and Highlanders prop Kane Hames to a leg injury.

Hamish Gosling is at openside flanker, a position he never played in his 62 games for Manawatu. There are three former New Zealand under-20 players - Wellington prop Solomona Sakalia, Canterbury halfback Jono Kitto and Auckland wing Junior Tofa Va'a.

Fullback Byron McGuigan is a Scottish sevens player from Glasgow, Tongan sevens player Saiosi Iongi has shifted from wing to centre. Tongan prop Siegfried Fisiihoi once played for East Coast and Joe Royal was the NZ Maori hooker last year.

Manawatu Standard