New coach and fresh faces line up for Stags
It is a new coach and new-look squad to boot for the Southland Stags as they ramp up their preparation for the 2014 provincial season.
First year Stags coach Brad Mooar announced his 2014 squad yesterday and it featured 12 new faces to the squad.
The revamped squad started training yesterday and would have their first pre-season hit out against Mid Canterbury in Oamaru on Saturday.
Barring JP Koen, none of the Stags Super Rugby players will play against Mid Canterbury and will link up with the squad on Monday.
Mooar named 30 players but said they would trim one back and one forward from that mix after the trip to Oamaru this weekend.
They will then play Otago in Alexandra next Friday before the Stags open their 2014 season against Bay of Plenty on Friday, August 15, at Rugby Park in Invercargill.
Included in the newbies named yesterday was a teenage No 8 Bill Fukofuka, who is in his first year out of school.
Mooar said he had showed plenty of promise and as a result named him despite being so young.
Fukofuka was a Auckland age-group representative who headed south to join the Rugby Southland academy system this year. Last year he captained Tangaroa College to win the national coed schools final and was one of the team's best players.
He played for Blues in this season's Southland club rugby competition.
"He is still eligible for under-19 but his performances have been outstanding and he's a great asset to our squad and our province," Mooar said.
Fukofuka is one of three new players in the loose forward mix with the others Mike Stewart, who has transferred from Canterbury, and Brenton Howden, a former Central Southland College pupil.
Howden has been a toiler for many years in Southland club rugby and Mooar has rewarded him on the back of some strong form for Midlands this year.
"He's put in a lot of work from January to now and he has improved a lot. He deserves this opportunity."
Mooar said there were several tough calls to make and highlighted Blues frontrowers Michael Peterson and Marlo Magele as two of the unlucky ones.
The Stags decision-makers stuck to their word, which was rewarding club form, and Mooar was excited by that point.
"I think what is the real positive thing to come out of this is all of the guys who have secured contracts in this last push have been playing club footy here for the bulk, if not all, of the club season. They are contributing to their clubs and contributing to society, living here."
Jamie Mackintosh, Tony Keresoma, Talemaitoga Tuapati, Jason Rutledge, Dillon Halaholo, Juan (JP) Koen, Morgan Mitchell, Michael Fatialofa, Josh Bekhuis, Craig Smith, John Hardie, Tim Boys, Mike Stewart, Brenton Howden, Alex Taylor, Elliot Dixon, Bill Fukofuka, Scott Eade, Tayler Adams, Lima Sopoaga, Willis Halaholo, Cardiff Vaega, Keanu Kahukura, Bryan Milne, Mark Jackman, Lolohea Loco, Junior Ngaluafe, Warrick Lynn, Otulea Katoa, Jamie Verran.
The Southland Times