Makos show their teeth for 2014 NPC season
Ten Super Rugby players make up almost half the contracted group named by the Tasman Rugby Union to contest the 2014 ITM Cup.
Of the 22 names revealed last week, 19 return from the 2013 campaign, three are newly contracted, and one plays for the NZ Sevens side, leaving eight places available to finalise the 30-man squad.
The newly contracted players are Central hooker Jesse MacDonald, who played ITM Cup for Hawke's Bay last season, Waimea Old Boys No 8 Peter Samu and Waitohi prop Ross Geldenhuys, a former Super Rugby player with South African franchises the Lions and Kings.
With a decent complement of Super Rugby players, Makos coach Kieran Keane has plenty of top-level experience to call on. Highlanders Joe Wheeler and Shane Christie have been having outstanding seasons with the southernmost NZ franchise, and will return, along with Crusaders prop Tim Perry and centre Kieran Fonotia, who both played against England midweek.
Billy Guyton and Marty Banks have received little game time for the Hurricanes, but will have benefited from fulltime exposure to professional rugby. Four of the contracted players have been part of the Chiefs outfit this season, namely Tom Marshall, James Lowe, Liam Squire and Tevita Koloamatangi.
Outside back utility Bryce Heem has been involved with Gordon Tietjens' world series-winning New Zealand sevens side and will provide options at wing and in midfield.
Quentin MacDonald, the Makos' No 1 hooker last season, has been plying his trade abroad after missing a Super Rugby contract, but will be back for the latter stages of the club competition.
Returning players involved in club rugby are Waitohi loose forward Vernon Fredericks, Wanderers prop Siua Halanukonuka, Wanderers lock Alex Ainley, Waimea's Tevita Cavubati, Kahurangi first five Mike Wells, plus Nelson's exciting outside backs Mitchell Scott and Robbie Malneek.
Coaches Keane and assistant Leon MacDonald still have eight vacancies to fill, likely to be covering hooker, prop, lock and loose forward, plus halfback, first-five, midfield and fullback/wing.
Absent players include last year's starting tighthead prop and Tongan international, Sila Puafisi, who has been released to English club Gloucester. Flanker Gary Redmond is now playing his club rugby in Ashburton and former Samoan international No 8 George Stowers is not returning. English midfielder Andy Symons is back with the Worcester club.
Hayden Cripps, Kaide Whiting, Reuben Northover and Francis Smith are the other contracted players from 2013 not in the 2014 draft, the latter trio playing club rugby in the region.
With just three rounds of the Bayleys Tasman Trophy to run, plus the club semifinals and final, time is running out for those wishing to put their hand up for final selection.
Whichever players the selectors choose, this squad has talent and experience aplenty, which will be needed as they move into the upper echelon of the ITM Cup this season.
The 2013 championship winners open their 2014 campaign against Hawke's Bay on Sunday, August 17 in Blenheim.
Tasman Makos contracted players: Quentin MacDonald, Jesse MacDonald, Siua Halonukonuku, Tim Perry, Ross Geldenhuys, Joe Wheeler, Alex Ainley, Tevita Cavubati, Shane Christie, Liam Squire, Tevita Koloamatani, Peter Samu, Vernon Fredericks, Billy Guyton, Marty Banks, Tom Marshall, Kieran Fonotia, Michael Wells, Mitchell Scott, Robbie Malneek, Bryce Heem, James Lowe.
The Nelson Mail