Manawatu's under-19 is not just any other age-grade representative side.
It has become a stepping stone into the New Zealand under-20s who play in the IRB Junior World Championship in northern Italy next year.
Manawatu will be one of four teams from the Hurricanes regions which will compete in the first national under-19 tournament at Taupo late next month.
Besides academy recruiters from all over the country, most predict the tournament will be crawling with NRL rugby league scouts.
Players of particular interest to the national selectors will be Varsity hooker Travis Taylor who trialled for the New Zealand under-20s this year, speedy Te Kawau halfback Ethan Woodmass and former Palmerston North Boys' High School fullback Jono Ihaka. He cut teams apart with his attacking for Boys' High last year and was to return last night from a gap year in Argentina.
The Manawatu team has been selected by Kia Toa's Fusi Feaunati, who steps up from two years with the under-18s, and Glenn Christini, the Manawatu Rugby Union's coach development officer.
More than half of the 25-man squad can be traced back to the Boys' High first XV and a handful are students from Taranaki studying at Massey University. Two are western Australians, Kia Toa No 8 Blake Phillips and halfback Angus Taylor.
Feaunati and Christini scoured the union for talent, printing a list of eligible players from the union's database and not restricting themselves to senior A players. They were not permitted, by the New Zealand Rugby Union, to pick schoolboys. They were allowed to pick a few over-age players and state of origin lads who had been out of Manawatu for up to three years.
There were such candidates in Canterbury, Taranaki and Otago, but Feaunati preferred to stay local.
"I'm keen on promoting local talent," said Feaunati.
"If we don't look after them, they end up in someone else's jersey playing against us.
"I'm very excited we can put these guys on a stage."
They looked closely at senior second and colts games.
"We found some quality product running around."
Among the discoveries were three-quarter Brandon Baillie, a Tim Mikkelson clone from Waikato, Adam Jowse, a former Hawke's Bay under-20s prop and Taranaki age-grade lock Richard Rosewarne.
THE LINEUP MANAWATU UNDER-19 SQUAD
Halfbacks: Ethan Woodmass (Te Kawau)*, Angus Taylor (Kia Toa)*. First-fives: Sam Malcolm (Varsity A)*, Kenny Hill (OBM Colts) Midfielders: Patrick Hiscox (OBM Colts), Jordan Henare (Te Kawau)*, Brandon Baillie (Massey Colts) Outside backs: Alofa Mapuilesua (FOB-Oroua)*, Reece Brosnan (Massey Colts), Daniel Monaghan (Kia Toa), Jono Ihaka. Hookers: Travis Taylor (Varsity A)*, Cam Barr (Te Kawau)*. Locks: Liam Mitchell (Te Kawau)*, Richard Rosewarne (Massey Colts), Manaaki Selby-Rickit (College OB)*. Props: Adam Jowse (Massey Rams), Sam Mapuilesua (FOB-Oroua)*, Keilan Henry (FOB-Oroua)*, Jeremiah Saua (COB Colts). Loose forwards: Amon Panikoula (FOB-Oroua)*, Blake Phillips (Kia Toa)*, Benedict Grant (OBM)*, Scott Bowater (OBM), Daniel Moore (OBM Colts). *senior first players this year.
- Manawatu Standard