In the leadup to the Stags' opening game on Friday night, LOGAN SAVORY is looking at five key players across five different topics. Today he highlights five players who will need to be at their best for Southland to have a successful 2014 campaign.
Southland's big off-season signing was that of first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga. There is plenty of expectation on the Highlanders pivot to take charge and steer this Southland team around the field this season. The Stags traditionally have not been a team that racks up a lot of tries through a season that places extra importance on goal-kicking. That job this season is Sopoaga's.
The 24-year-old is now a regular starter at Super Rugby level and is about to enter his fifth season with the Stags - it is set up for him to take charge. With the confidence he has taken from the Highlanders' campaign, the big No 8 will be a key factor in how the Stags go this season. He will be a go-to player in terms of gaining Southland momentum on attack this season.
Vaega was a key player in attack as well as on defence last season for the Stags, and Southland will need much more of the same this year. He is a strong, direct runner and can be brutal on defence. Given he is about to enter his second full season at this level - and has spent the Super Rugby season with the Hurricanes - Vaega should be more than confident he can make his mark on the 2014 Stags campaign.
Southland's most experienced players have probably been a little guilty of not stepping up to the mark in recent seasons. Mackintosh is a leader in this team and for the Stags to be successful he will need to lead the way with his actions on the field. That includes with ball in hand, at the breakdown and, most importantly, at scrum time. The Southland scrum was good in pre-season outings and there is hope and expectation that will remain the case throughout the season.
Boys has probably been the hardest-working player within the Stags squad in recent seasons. In fact, the flanker has probably saved many of his team-mates, given his impressive ability in cover defence. His work rate often hovers outside the radar, and it is only when Boys is not there that his true worth for the Stags is properly highlighted.
- The Southland Times