Crossover games give extra action for D1 sides

Crossover games with the premier grade have been introduced into the division one club rugby competition.

There will be 13 teams competing each weekend with the team having the bye playing the premier side which also has the bye.

The division side will be awarded four competition points regardless of the result.

Last year's division two champions Ohai-Nightcaps gained automatic promotion, while their Western Southland neighbours Waiau Star have dropped down a grade.

The Council of Clubs have also made space for two more teams to create an odd number for the bye round.

Mataura and Tokonui both won entry with Collegiate missing out after a playoff tournament.

The pressure is on the division one teams right from the start as they will only get one crack at each other this year before the quarterfinalists are decided.

Te Anau were deserved champions last year after a very consistent season.

Points scoring machine Napoli Serulele has returned from Fiji for another winter, while his partner in crime, Neamai Bari, may miss the round one clash against Waikiwi but he is expected to touchdown in the very near future.

The Waikiwi club has been absent from finals footy in recent seasons, but has retained the core of its squad from last year.

Their depth, especially in the front row, is already a concern.

Wyndham have also retained the nucleus of last year's squad. They beat Arrowtown 19-12 and travelled to Alexandra last week and will start favourites against Pioneer on Saturday.

Dean Rabbage makes a welcome return to the second row.

Pioneer had a tough time last season but the Chris McGregor-led side decided it is better for the experience and wants to give this grade another go.

Pioneer have a full player roster but are yet to get their A team on the field with cricket and shearing taking precedence over their trial matches against the Hawks and Clutha Valley,

Mossburn had a mixed 2013, but this year's youthful squad has had good numbers at training and has benefited from a narrow loss to Clinton and a 10-point draw with Te Anau.

On Saturday, Mossburn host a Mataura side which was not represented last year but has high hopes after a solid pre-season.

Mataura had a narrow loss to Blues and a 29-7 win over Cromwell to go with their tri-series success.

The club is pleased to have Doug Clark at the helm after coming off a very good stint in the Menzies College coaching setup.

Ohai-Nightcaps have retained the bulk of their squad from last year.

The youthful coaching duo of Kurt Molloy and Paul Roberts has prepared the team to a Western Banner win over Waiau Star, while their previous narrow losses to Wakatipu and Te Anau also held plenty of merit.

Edendale also have two new coaches, Duane Millane and Mark Hourston, to lead them over to Nightcaps on Saturday.

The well-organised Magpies have put together three pre-season wins.

Waikaka are far from flush with players but they have won their two warmup games against Clinton and Heriot.

They got off to a slow start in 2013 before finishing strongly, coach Peter McIntosh knows they need to be up from the start on Saturday against Drummond Limehills Star.

The combined side has a youthful pack this year and will rely heavily on utility forward Glen Cunningham.

In years gone by Cunningham has relied on sheer determination to lead the tackle count each week, but with a summer of boxing under his belt he will be more valuable than ever.

In the southern derby last year's finalists Bluff host new kids on the block Tokonui. Bluff are in an enviable position this year with only three players missing from last year's team.

Utility back Hunter Wagner is one of two to depart for Australia.

Coach Jason Harrison reported Bluff are in a comfortable space and the Senior B squad also has plenty of depth heading into the club's 125th season, which will be celebrated at Labour Weekend.

The fit and mobile Tokonui team was travelling nicely before its midfielders collided in a sickening head clash in their match against Mataura.

Tokonui will not need any more injuries in the backline during the next three weeks, but are match hardened after wins over Collegiate, Kaitangata and Riversdale, before a narrow loss to Owaka last week.

The Garth Lindsay-coached Riversdale team heads down to Marist to gain four competition points and make use of what is effectively an extra pre-season game.

After a scratchy loss to Tokonui and a scratchy win over Excelsior, Riversdale have lost first five-eighth Neil Warnock to the Barbarians but have benefited by the return of prop Hayden Blatch from Auckland, and loose forward Robert Blatch.

Matthew Tayles has also returned to the district after completing his studies at Lincoln University.

The Southland Times