Baker, Templeman in lineup
It was a tight call but Matenga Baker and Bryn Templeman have collared the last two vacancies in the 27-man Manawatu Turbos squad.
As of yesterday they had still to put pen to paper, but neither was likely to hesitate.
Baker, 23, who came to Awatapu College from Otaki at Dave Rennie's invitation as a young flanker, has metamorphosed into a second five-eighth over the past three seasons.
In doing so, he has headed off Varsity's New Zealand under-20 trialist Hamish Northcott, who like Baker, had been running into classy form as the club season has tailed off. Northcott will stay in trim with the Manawatu under-20 side.
Baker captained Horowhenua-Kapiti as a loan player in 2010.
Templeman had come close to being written off this season following his fourth knee reconstruction. But he returned a month early and has been his effervescent self for Kia Toa to again be the designated back-up hooker to Rob Foreman.
That spells bad luck for the man from Oxford, Canterbury, the Feilding captain Richard Taylor. He would be the next pick should a replacement hooker be needed.
Linton soldier Papa Wharewera turned up in Manawatu with the army rather than for rugby reasons. The little halfback, too, is expected to sign his contract and join the squad for their first official training at Massey University tomorrow.
And at last flanker Anonio Kiri Kiri has broken through into the semi-professional ranks to fill the vacancy created by the season-ending knee injury to Doug Tietjens.
He was virtually the only other specialist openside flanker who was a Turbos contender around the clubs and will be the deputy to Callum Gibbins. Kiri Kiri is one of the latest to graduate from the NZ Schools side, but that was in 2009.
Prop Jared Brock has been in fine fettle for the dominant Varsity forward pack and he has been signed for his second season with the Turbos.
Another to sign yesterday was 2010-11 NZ Schools and NZ under-20 centre Jason Emery, who has been granted a full dispensation by the New Zealand Rugby Union to play for the Turbos.
Emery is only 18, less than a year out of Palmerston North Boys' High School and the NZRU is usually wary about exposing youngsters to top-level rugby too soon.
It helped that NZRU high-performance manager Mike Anthony had been with the team at the Junior World Championship in South Africa. There he got to know Emery and was satisfied he could cope mentally and physically with a full programme.
He will be an option for the Turbos in his specialist position of centre and as a back-up first five-eighth.
Coach Jason O'Halloran liked what Emery did last Saturday for Kia Toa even though the Varsity forwards starved Kias, and Emery, of ball.
"I would like to play him in his specialist position," O'Halloran said.
The first choice centre was expected to be Chiefs wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma and the No 1 first-five will now be Waikato loan player Nathan George. Manawatu are light on wings and might yet bring in another outside back.