Rabbits hop into form for Origin
Having 12 of the Richmond Rabbits squad that won last week's Tasman Rugby League Bin Inn Cup club final named in this year's Country lineup might sound like the perfect shot in the arm.
The champion Rabbits' players comprise half the Country squad set to contest game one of this year's ProRugby League Town-Country Origin series at Trafalgar Park on Sunday.
Yet history, brief as it is, rests squarely with Town after they swept last year's inaugural series 3-0.
They began with a tight 32-28 win in game one, before waltzing away with much more convincing 42-16 and 60-26 wins in the remaining two games.
Still, the Rabbits' 19-16 win over the Stoke Cobras, who comprise the bulk of this year's Town squad, in last weekend's club final suggests that Country coach Joe Kiriona has plenty of form players around which to mould a potentially successful side.
With only two teams to select from last season, the relatively new Wakefield Wolves and the Motueka Tigers, the arrival of the Richmond club, coupled with their spectacular success, has Kiriona feeling confident heading into the three-match series.
"It's fantastic to have the luxury of choosing from three teams [including Blenheim's Wairau Taniwha], so we get the cream of the crop from all of them," he said.
"Obviously the form team are Richmond who are the champions, so they've set the benchmark."
He said it was also helpful having some fully fit players this season.
"One thing that is important this year, is that the coaches have worked better on conditioning their players.
"So we've got far better and fitter players now, having gone through the season having managed their injuries better, so it's got to be good for the game."
Town will again field a formidable side and, irrespective of the Rabbits' newfound champion status, will still command plenty of respect - possibly even favouritism.
However, Town coach George Waite was anticipating a tough, close contest.
"It's just going to take a bit of time to gel together and learn different defensive patterns and attacking patterns," he said.
"It's going to be a hard game. We had a look at the Country team and they're big boys and they're mobile.
"We've just got to make sure that we play the percentages and just keep as tight as we can.
"I respect the Country team to the hilt . . . to me it's just going to be a battle for the full 80 minutes and, like I said, we've just got to make sure we stick to the percentages and try to make as few mistakes as possible."
The Town-Country series is also a key part of the selection process towards naming the Tasman Titans squad to contest this year's South Island Districts competition, which starts on August 25.
Sunday's game kicks off at Trafalgar Park at 2.30pm.
TOWN: Jamein Bristowe, Hoani Tauwhare, Tamate Tauwhare, Freedom Walker, Caleb Tauwhare, Troy Wilson, James Vailanu, James Piukala, Shonny Simons, Tapu Laiseni, Keani Edwards, Josiah Burton, Zane Lyttle, Jarrod Albert (Stoke Cobras), Richard Laloli, Kasi Sami, Te Atawhai Meechang, Luke Raharuhi, Chris Taylor, Loto Pito, Jess Walker, TJ Beazly, Mason Paul, Josh Kutu, Ray Annan, James Tuhakaraina, Riki Ryan (Tahuna Tigers).
COUNTRY: Nick Rangi, Hoani Takao, Tamaio Piripi, Harry Salton, Dean Campbell, Johnny Delore, Callum Smith, Lucas Bennett, Kaiapa Paul, Cam Arnold, Cam Salton, Shannon Telfar (Richmond Rabbits), Laurie Kirdy (captain), Hayden Smith, Josh McMillan, Joe Collins, Jase Kaisia, Nick Andrew, Sam Hedges (Wanderers Wolves), Ngatote Samuels, Luke Samuels, Ceyphus Samuels, Uriah Esau, Rob Filipo (Wairau Taniwha).
- © Fairfax NZ News