Lining up shield prospects for premier clubs
The 2014 Southland premier club rugby season kicks off tomorrow. The Southland Times takes a look at how each of the seven teams are situated in the quest to get their hands on the Galbraith Shield.
Coach: Craig Pullar
Key players: Tayler Adams, Billy Soper, Junior Ngaluafe.
Gains: Lolohea Loco, Adam Muir, Jeremy Borland, Jared Bekhuis, Jeremy Bekhuis, Brad Whyte, Hayden Edgley, Hayden Pope, Rangi Rogers, Glen Ballam, Steve Cormack, Mac Popham.
Losses: Mana Harrison, Cody de Vries, Danny Dowling, Chris Dermody, Pale Tuilagi, Cardiff Vaega, Matt Medley.
Watch out for: Lolohea Loco. Loco has been a fringe Counties player who has also played club rugby in Auckland. He has been enticed south to have a crack at breaking into the Stags setup.
Lowdown: Star have been one of the most consistent clubs in Southland over a long period and were beaten finalists last season. However, the playing numbers at Waverley Park are being stretched and with Mana Harrison retired and Cardiff Vaega in Wellington with the Hurricanes it would be a surprise if they again made the final.
Coach: Damien Pine
Key players: Jason Rutledge, Willis Halaholo, Alex Taylor.
Gains: Jack Falloon, Kaleni Taetuli, Cole Williams, Calvary Fonoti, Taina Tamou, Jamie Verran.
Losses: Nick Barrett, Marika Roqica, Pete Copeland, Sven Penwarden, Marty McKenzie.
Watch out for: Jamie Verran. Rugby Southland has signed the former Canterbury squad member with the prospect of him filling the fullback spot this season with Robbie Robinson injured and Marty McKenzie playing for Taranaki.
Lowdown: It is hard to go past Woodlands making it three Galbraith Shield titles in a row this year. The defending champions have lost a couple of key players but the recruitment of lock Jack Falloon, first five-eighth Calvary Fonoti, Taina Tamou and Jamie Verran, who will all probably be looked at by the Stags selectors, still make the Damien Pine-coached team a dangerous beast. Their backline could make some teams look silly this season.
Coach: Brenton Taylor
Key players: Scott McKee, Mark Wells, Morgan Mitchell.
Gains: Bill Christie, Mark Wells, Willie McKee, Dylan Bungard, Ryan Evans, Sam Parker.
Losses: Robert Blatch, Harry Swain, Khan Wilson, Logan Moore, Shay Moseby, Sam Withers, Hamish Blakely.
Watch out for: Ryan Evans and Sam Parker. The Barbarians have a trend of bringing in Welsh players to bolster their stocks and this year it is Evans and Parker who will have a crack at Southland club rugby.
Lowdown: The Barbarians have progressed to the semifinals in their first two years playing in the premier competition and will look to go one better and make the final in 2014. They've assembled a team which could be top four material again but the question mark is whether they have the X-factor to go all the way.
Coach: Mark Tinnock
Key players: Scott Eade, Phil Halder, Keanu Kahukura.
Gains: Jethro Felemi, Phil Halder, Byron Curtis, Bull Maitiaha, Dylan Halaholo, Casey Cummings.
Losses: Aston Tailia, Peter Ah Sue.
Watch out for: Jethro Felemi. Felemi is a prop who last season played for the St Kentigern College first XV. He has shifted south this year to link up with the Rugby Southland academy system.
Lowdown: A young Marist team promised plenty last season but didn't deliver, missing out on the semifinals despite being one of the pre-competition favourites. With a season under the belt and a couple of good recruits they will again be favoured to do well. The concern is probably their depth in the tight five.
Coach: Matt Saunders
Key players: Talemaitoga Tuapati, JP Koen, Bryan Milne.
Gains: Campbell Wood, Craig Stanway, Jono Steele, Dylan Lovett, Dom Collins, Ben Keenan, Jack Sharland, Mike Molloy, Rob Pefeta.
Losses: Anthony Diack, Nemia Kenatale.
Watch out for: Jay Thompson-Te Muunu. Thompson-Te Muunu was one of the best rookies in the 2013 club season and another standout season will have the young first five-eighth in Stags contention.
Lowdown: Pirates-Old Boys impressed under the guidance of Matt Saunders and David Hall last season and have assembled an even stronger squad for 2014 to try to go one better than their semifinal exit in 2013.
Pirates-Old Boys' strength will centre around their experienced forward pack, but they do have some attacking ability in the backline with the likes of Thompson-Te Muunu and Bryan Milne in the mix.
Coach: Rodger Dawson
Key players: Michael Fatialofa, Pehi Te Whare, Michael Peterson.
Gains: Michael Stewart, Faimalo Magele, Bill Fukafuka, Ben Soper, Kaleb Dick, Todd McNeily, Sam Hyde, Jacob Brown.
Losses: John Ngatai, Jeremy Borland, Bull Maitiaha.
Watch out for: Bill Fukafuka. Fukafuka is a No 8 who has shifted south from Auckland to join the Rugby Southland academy programme.
Lowdown: Blues had one of their worst seasons in the south Invercargill club's long history last year when they lost every single game in their premier campaign.
The club has set about rebuilding and this season have recruited a lot of young players and also have a new coach in Rodger Dawson. Dawson last year coached the Southland team to win the South Island under-18 tournament.
Another winless season is very unlikely, in fact the Blues camp would regard themselves semifinals prospects.
Coach: Paul Henderson
Key players: Brenton Howden, Chris Kenning, Ben Brown.
Gains: Jordan Stewart, Sam Stewart.
Losses: Mark Wells, Naulia Dawai, Malili Bula, Morgan Goodall, Stephan North.
Watch out for: Jordan Stewart. The No 8 has been one of the Southland Boys' High School first XV's best players in recent seasons and this year will step up to the premier club rugby ranks.
Lowdown: Midlands had a disappointing 2013 season and will be looking for a much better showing this time around. They have recruited former All Black flanker Paul Henderson to coach the team and help with development of players in the hope of better results.
They've also picked up two of the better Southland school leavers from last year in brothers Jordan and Sam Stewart.
A semifinals spot would probably exceed expectations.