Jamie Joseph not ignoring local players
Jamie Joseph wants to play down talk the Highlanders aren't interested in local players.
The Highlanders have come in for no shortage of criticism following a season where their reliance on imports such as Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu did nothing to avoid another poor season for the southern franchise.
At the same time, Stags captain Jamie Mackintosh has opted to head to the Chiefs in search of more game time after being demoted from leading the team to warming the bench.
Southland players John Hardie, Josh Bekhuis and Elliot Dixon will be Highlanders next season, and there may be more in the wider training group when the full squad is announced in Dunedin on Wednesday.
But Mackintosh, Robbie Robinson and Nick Barrett will all be based in Hamilton with the two-time Super Rugby champions next year, Cardiff Vaega will be heading to the Hurricanes and Marty McKenzie will have a second season with the Blues.
Joseph said the Highlanders had benefited from the change to franchise contracting, which allowed teams to pick from outside their catchment areas, but it has also made them vulnerable to aggressive recruiters such as the Chiefs and Blues.
"You find it bloody difficult as a coach because there's a perception out there that we are overlooking our local talent. Coaches are now looking at the whole country, in terms of the player supply, to pick the best-balanced team that they can," Joseph said.
"I think Southland are well represented in Super Rugby but, since franchise contracting has come about, it's not necessarily with the home franchise. It gives us the ability to look elsewhere, but it also gives the likes of the Blues to come south and get Marty [McKenzie]. It's a new way of looking at things."
Franchises sign up to 32 fulltime players and then look for another half a dozen players for their wider training group.
Those players are part of the main squad, with the only real difference being that they are on smaller contracts.
Players not contracted for the main squad may go into next week's draft if they are not required by their local franchise.
That's why Barrett had to sign with Waikato to ensure he would be picked up in the Chiefs wider training squad, otherwise the Highlanders would have had first crack at him.
It's an example of franchises manipulating the system, and it would be no surprise if Waikato opted to loan Barrett back to Southland for next year's NPC.
Joseph revealed he had watched Stags lock Michael Fatialofa and Stags rookie of the year Willis Halaholo closely this season.
In both cases he had already filled those positions in his squad, but he will be watching their development.
"[Fatialofa] had incredibly bad luck last year with injury [but] he's a player with tremendous potential. We weren't really looking for a lock because we'd already contracted our locks and we've effectively got five of them. Michael Fatialofa is definitely a player the Highlanders are interested in in the future."
- © Fairfax NZ News