Woodlands out to break hoodoo

Last updated 05:00 03/04/2013

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WOODLANDS

Coach: Damien Pine

Gains: Chris Barrett (Wrights Bush)

Losses: Aston Talaia (Marist), Ryan Koning (Barbarians), Willie Umu (Tasman), Alex Ryan (Christchurch), Ryan Carter (injured), Dan Cavanagh (overseas).

Key players: Nick Barrett, Warrick Lynn, Sonny Rangitoheriri.

The lowdown: The defending champions are the latest to be handed the task of breaking a hoodoo that stretches back to 1994. No team has won back-to-back titles since Blues' last of seven straight Galbraith Shield wins 19 years ago.

As usual, Woodlands will roll out a team capable of winning another Galbraith Shield title but, like a couple of other teams, there are concerns about depth in certain positions in their squad.

The loss of tighthead prop Aston Talaia to Marist has been offset by the return of Nick Barrett, who was in Christchurch last year as part of the Crusaders setup. Two of their key performers in 2012 won't be back, with Alex Ryan shifting back to Christchurch and Willie Umu joining the Tasman setup.

STAR

Coach: Craig Pullar

Gains: Matt Medly (Edendale), Apana Tuaua (Bluff), Tama Toomata (Waiau Star), Gavin Cartmel (UK).

Losses: Billy Soper (injured), Gino Haurua (Christchurch), Sam Moynihan (overseas).

Key players: Tayler Adams, Cardiff Veaga, Junior Ngaulafe.

The lowdown: Star for many years have been competition frontrunners, more often than not featuring in the finals series.

Again this year they will roll out a handy side but, like many clubs, depth will be an issue, in particular in the backline department, and if injuries strike they could be in trouble.

Long-serving Mana Harrison isn't expected to play a big part this season because of work commitments. Much of the attack will centre on young Stags squad members Tayler Adams, Cardiff Veaga and Junior Ngaulafe, although Adams may miss a chunk of the season if, as expected, he is selected in the New Zealand under-20 team.

PIRATES-OLD BOYS

Coaches: Alan Frew, Matt Saunders, David Hall.

Gains: NA

Losses: Jesse Gibb (Belgium), Robbie Flynn (Italy), Elgan O'Donnell (retired), Matt Saunders (retired), Dion Bates (retired), Nick Ah Kuoi (retired), Shane Drozdak (Belgium), Eroni Sotutu (Dunedin).

Key players: David Hall, Bryan Milne, JP Keon.

The lowdown: Pirates-Old Boys' best recruitment is probably in their coaching with long-serving Stags players Matt Saunders and David Hall - who have coaching aspirations - helping out long-time Southland club rugby coach Alan Frew this season.

Pirates-Old Boys have lost a host of players for various reasons, but Pirates-Old Boys president Regan Johns said they were keen to be a club that promote within the club and provide opportunities for younger players.

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A handful of younger players will step up from the division two team to premier this season, with the likes of Bryan Milne, JP Keon and Hall providing plenty of experience.

MIDLANDS

Coaches: Mike Cunningham and David Wheely

Gains: Jose Seru (Fiji), Ethan Bloomfield (South Canterbury), Sam Brand (Otautau), Morgan Goodall (England), Marka Mohi (Auckland), Maleli Bula (Fiji).

Losses: Ray Hemi (Te Anau), Scott Cowan (Italy), Ben Johnstone (Australia).

Key players: Brenton Howden, Mark Wells, Tu Dawai.

The lowdown: Midlands have retained the the bulk of their 2012 team with long-serving looseforward Ray Hemi and Australian outside back Ben Johnstone the only real notable losses.

The Winton-based club have done plenty of recruiting in the off-season, bringing in players from far and wide and have created depth across the park.

They will look to put a forgettable 2012 behind them, where they missed the playoffs, and this year push for a crack at the Galbraith Shield.

They have plenty of experience to call on, with the likes of Dayna Cunningham, Blair Vinning and Damien Pulley in the mix, while a player to watch out for will be former Fiji sevens representative Maleli Bula, who arrived in Southland last week to join the Midlands club.

EASTERN-NORTHERN BARBARIANS

Coaches: Brenton Taylor and Sean Hurley

Gains: Mike Wilkins (Blues), Brendon Wilkins (Blues), Ryan Koning (Woodlands), Harry Swain (Mataura), Khan Wilson (Mataura), Logan Moore (Dunedin), Josh Vosewale (Fiji), Sam Withers (Wales), Michael Donald (Mataura).

Losses: Sam Wholers (Wanaka).

Key players: Scott McKee, Shay Moseby, Robert Blatch.

The lowdown: The Eastern-Northern Barbarians have been one of the big players in the off-season, retaining the bulk of their 2012 squad and also attracting a long list of new players to the combined team.

The Barbarians concept was introduced last year to give the eastern and northern areas of Southland a strong representation in the premier grade.

They made a strong start, making the semifinals in their first season and look set to be major player in the race to the 2013 title with the squad they have assembled. BLUES Coach: Simon Frisby

Gains: Lee Murray (North Otago).

Losses: Josh Hall (Marist), Mike Wilkins (Barbarians), Brendon Wilkins (Barbarians), Elliott Mitchell (overseas).

Key players: Sam Muir, Michael Fatialofa, Daniel Townson.

The lowdown: The beaten 2012 finalists' biggest defection in the off-season is probably the loss of their pivot Josh Hall, who has headed to Marist, where he believes he is a better chance to push for Stags selection.

It will result in a positional change for veteran halfback Sam Muir, who will now play first five-eighth, while long-serving and hard-working looseforward Daniel Townson will make a switch to the wing this season.

Forwards Mike and Brendon Wilkins have chosen to play for the Eastern-Northern Barbarians this season after a long time at the south Invercargill club.

There is some excitement around as to just how former New Zealand secondary schools player Michael Fatialofa will perform this season for the Blues.

MARIST

Coaches: Mark Tinnock and Peter Skelt

Gains: Josh Hall (Blues), Aston Talaia (Woodlands), Pita Anae-Ah Sue (Christchurch), Daniel Cairns (Dunedin), Michael Douglas (Dunedin).

Losses: Matt Gandy (Auckland), Hoani Macdonald (retired), Byron Curtis (concentrating on league), Ubain Lawrence (Australia).

Key players: Scott Eade, Aston Talaia, Keanu Kahukura.

The lowdown; Marist have picked up a lot of younger players in recent seasons and have been building and should now be a force this season.

The inclusion of Josh Hall and Aston Talaia, who have moved from Blues and Woodlands, will be a big boost to the Miller St club.

They have also received a boost in the coaching department with Peter Skelt, who has a winning track record at various levels, joining former Southland lock Mark Tinnock. Hoani Macdonald and Marty O'Connell are also on hand to help coach.

Marist look well off in most areas but if there is a concern it would be, like most teams, a lack of depth in the outside-back department.

- The Southland Times

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