Twelve teams ready to engage
Star and Central Pirates have combined forces to form a division two rugby team for the 2014 season, which starts on Saturday.
In other developments, 2011 champions Waiau Star have dropped back to division two with a young and enthusiastic team, and Tokanui, beaten semifinalists last season, have won playoff games to earn promotion to division one.
All told, 12 teams - six rural and six metropolitan - will front up in search of competition honours.
On Saturday, the combined Central Pirates-Star team will meet Woodlands at Star, and Albion Excelsior, last season's beaten finalists, will host Midlands at the Gore Showgrounds.
Blues will clash with Pirates Old Boys at Blues, and Marist will host Balfour-Lumsden at Miller St in Invercargill.
Wrights Bush will host Collegiate, and Riverton will open their new clubrooms when hosting Waiau Star.
Waiau Star beat Riverton in a classic confrontation for 2011 honours at the Tuatapere Domain, which was a quagmire after two days of heavy rain.
Riverton president Rodney Lonneker is expected to front for his club this season, possibly as a pivot, where his experience and ringcraft will be effectively employed.
Otautau, who could not field a team last season, will again be missing from division two rugby.
Riverton, beaten by Excelsior in the semifinals last season, will be largely coached by Steve McKay and Joel Allan, with stalwart Corey Mennell there if needed.
The opening of the new clubrooms is seen as a positive endorsement for the game at the historic seaside quarters.
Star stalwart and former associate coach "JJ" Morgan said the merger with Central Pirates had been "positively received", with good interclub spirit.
"Star has a dozen available players and Central Pirates has about 15 so that will give us a decent number to tackle the competition," Morgan said.
"Brad Anderson and Nathan Brown, of Central Pirates, will do the coaching of the combined team. Oz Harvey and I decided to step back a bit this season. I will remain as a casual observer, with Central Pirates men covering most positions. It will take a week or two to get things ticking with training first being at Star and our games at alternate venues."
If conditions deteriorated over winter, more training would be switched to the Central Pirates ground, he said.
"Central Pirates also has a Senior C team, which will cater for surplus division two players."
Morgan maintained the joint venture was "a way forward" for both clubs with all pulling together effectively.
Coach Jason Webb said Albion Excelsior were fielding a young and keen bunch of players after losing 17 representatives from their outstanding team of last season which forced the competition pace before losing to Ohai Nightcaps in the final.
"We're understandably struggling a bit in getting players pulled together. We lost three or four to other clubs, some have retired and others have left the district," he said.
"We haven't been able to organise proper coaching as early as the previous season [October] as we are working on attracting adequate players."
On a brighter note, Webb was buoyed by the enthusiasm of young recruits. "We'll get there eventually. We've got a few young guys who are looking good."
Waiau Star president Steve Edgerton, who played for his club for more than 22 seasons, said the new and young look of this season's unit was best served by dropping down to division two.
"Division one rugby can be hard going with an emphasis on set piece and structured ploys. Division two, with more flexibility, will suit our new team that will be coached by former prominent player and Waiau Star representative Gerald Adams."
Although Waiau Star found Ohai-Nightcaps and Arrowtown superior in pre-season warmup games, the young team is expected to improve quickly and preserve the proud heritage of a club steeped in rugby history.
Tokanui stalwart Roger Buckingham said his team's promotion in playoff games rested happily with supporters as it was "their wish" to step up a grade.
Former Southland standout player Rata Smith will again coach the team, with Buckingham his trusty sidekick.
"We still have a hard core of players from last season to go forward with, while a couple of newcomers will be valuable," Buckingham said.
Pivot Chris Dermody, whose father Gerald played 120 games for Southland, and former Star player Lindsay Hogg would be decided assets for Tokanui this season.
The club will be managed by Scott McKenzie, with Daryl Johnstone president, in the new season.
The Southland Times