Four teams benefit from division one expansion
CLUB RUGBY: Division 1JOHN LANGFORD
The division one competition will have 11 teams this year after the Council Of Clubs decided to ease the congestion in division two and promote Bluff, Wyndham, Mossburn and Pioneer.
Teams will complete a full round-robin before splitting into a top six-bottom five format, with the final on August 10.
Unfortunately, Mataura have been unable to field a team this year.
The Eastern-Northern Barbarians team and the local rugby league team are a couple of factors in the demise of the proud club's senior team.
Bluff have reportedly picked up where they left off last season.
The only setback in their buildup has been the Achilles injury to captain Tere Ngu.
Bluff will rely on experienced forwards Dominic Rikiti, Heath Lawson and the big-hitting Eric Tui for leadership.
Young Hunter Wagner is a new recruit from the Blues club and is expected to link up well in the halves with player/coach Jason Harrison.
In a repeat of last year's division two final, Bluff will host Wyndham on Saturday.
Wyndham have retained the nucleus of last year's squad and hope to reward their many supporters with another fine season. Dean Rabbage will be missed in the second row as he takes time off to prepare himself for the national Young Farmer competition.
The Pioneer team jumped at the chance for promotion. A dislocated shoulder to No 8 Morgan Crooks, who was the club's most valuable player last year, and a concussion to flanker Mark Gleshout, took the gloss off what was an otherwise solid pre-season.
Pioneer will host last year's semifinalists Riversdale on Saturday.
Riversdale will be doing well to repeat last year's results after the departure of first five-eighth Aaron Kimura and the uncertainty surrounding Fijian utility Marika Rociqa.
Coach Ant Logan said it hadn't been an ideal pre-season with two opposition teams defaulting, but a trip away to play Wakatipu was deemed successful. Two of their new players are Logan McKee and Matt Collins, who both represented Gore High School last year.
Mossburn only won half of their games last year but have recruited well and are ready for the challenge under new coach Paul Mavor.
Six Fijians have moved into the district to work in the dairy industry and fortunately they are also keen on their rugby. Mossburn have beaten Clinton and Te Anau in warm-up games and travel to Browns on Saturday to take on Drummond Limehills Star.
DLS contested the final last year and have retained the majority of that squad. The defection of first-five Dan McIlwrick to Mossburn has been offset by the long-awaited return of Shane Erskine from Texas.
Waiau Star finished third last year under the captaincy of division one Player of the Year Tama Toomata.
Unfortunately Toomata and eight others have moved on but they have been replaced by a mixture of club juniors and new faces to the district. Coach Richard Templeton hopes he can continue the good work of his predecessor Daggy McCallum.
Waiau Star take on defending champions Edendale, who unfortunately couldn't attract the quality players they thought they would require to contest the premier grade.
Edendale are expected to be a frontrunner again under new coach Jeroe Fodie. The 25-year-old is usually the team's first-five but is undergoing knee surgery in May. Jeroe is taking over from his father John - who will still be hovering in the background.
Te Anau finished eighth last year. Loose forward Grant Taylor has returned and brought a couple of players from England with him. Two new Fijian players have helped build confidence ahead of their round-one clash against Waikaka.
Under new coach Pete McIntosh, Waikaka have won their three warm-up games against Lawrence, Clinton and Heriot.
Waikiwi has plenty of depth this year, especially in the front row. They have the bye this weekend.
- The Southland Times