Two Gore teenagers to take on best
Gore youngsters Rakai Matika and Aaron Lay will carry Southland's hopes at the national championships next month.
The selectors have named a two-strong team for the nationals in Auckland, with Matika, 14, to compete in the 38kg cadet division, and Lay, 13, lining up in the 57kg cadet class.
Both boxers are relatively new to the sport, with Lay in his second season and Matika in his first.
Southland coach Russell Newton said both boys had performed strongly this year and had a realistic chance of doing well in their respective grades.
Matika has shone this season, winning his first six fights.
Newton said he was an exciting prospect.
"He's a very good judge of distance and he's got a good range of punches he uses at the right time," Newton said.
"He's a good mover as well.
"I think he's got a really good chance," he said.
Lay has fought in nine bouts this year, suffering three losses.
However, two of those were outside his weight class.
"Aaron's strength is his strength," Newton said.
"He's very strong for his age. He's very focused.
"He wants to be a good boxer. He trains like nothing else."
Both youngsters impressed at the Southland Boxing Championships at the Ascot Park Hotel on Saturday night.
Matika prevailed over Dunedin's Awatea Henry 17-9, while Lay was too good for Brock Miller of Deano's Gym, with the referee stopping the contest in the first round.
Southland Boxing selector and coach John Pile was optimistic about the duo's chances.
"They've had quite a good season those boys," he said.
"I'm pretty sure they're going to do quite well up there for Southland. It's a good weight division for them. I can see them doing very well."
A notable absentee from the Southland squad is Tom Heads, who has fought in the heavyweight division this season. His lack of form and recent fights has counted against him.
On Saturday night, he had a walkover over Canterbury's Sunny Teki-Clark, who chose not to fight after trainer Peter Bell was taken to hospital with chest pains.
In his other previous bout, Heads faced a 30-day stand-down when the referee stopped his fight against Wellington's Corey Onoko in July after a blow to the head.
Boxers are not allowed to spar or train during a stand-down, which crippled Heads' chances.
"That was a real knockback for him," Newton said.
"It's probably been the death knell of him really.
"He's only had four fights [this year] and hasn't had a win.
"Hopefully, we've picked a small, but quality team."
Newton will concentrate on speed and fitness work with Matika and Lay in the leadup to the nationals.
He will also look to refine their technique slightly.
The national boxing championships run from October 8 to 13.
- The Southland Times