Surprises were few and far between when Taranaki's national provincial championship squad was named yesterday.
With the announcement of off-season signings having already taken place over the past few months, the only points of interest centred on who would join captain Kane Barrett and James Broadhurst in the second row.
Some consistent club form, coupled with their previous NPC experience, saw Riki Hoeata and Leighton Price get the nod as coach Colin Cooper and assistant Leo Crowley opted for a 16-13 split in their 29-man squad, which also includes All Black Beauden Barrett.
Blues prop Angus Ta'avao and Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai headline the new faces in the squad, which also includes former Highlanders utility back Marty McKenzie, prop Mitchell Graham, loose forward Iopu Iopu and young centre Sean Wainui.
Hoeata comes with experience playing for Tasman, while Price has previously turned out for Hawke's Bay and Bay Of Plenty.
The only cloud hanging over the squad is the long-term future of flanker Doug Tietjens, who saw a neck specialist this week for an injury that has kept him sidelined for the past six weeks. If he was ruled out, then New Zealand under-20 rep Lachlan Boshier, Toa Halafihi or Adrian Wyrill, could be offered a squad position.
Cooper said there was no temptation to add another halfback into the mix, with cover, like so many positions, coming from the development rep side.
That leaves Brett Goodin, David Ormrod and Warwick Lahmert in the wings.
"The only problem is that Heartland rugby or another [NPC] side come and take the third one away from you."
Nevertheless, he felt he had some "good options" at his disposal in a backline where competition for places should be intense.
Both coaches felt their non-Super Rugby players had shown good, consistent form throughout the club season and had trained well as a group each week.
"If you go to a club game, you actually know who the rep guys are," Crowley said. "I wonder if last year we really knew that. I think they are dominating games and clubs certainly know when they are not there."
Avoiding a season like last year would be on the wishlist for every Taranaki rugby fan and the two coaches appear to have brought in the necessary reinforcements to bring improved results.
"There will be changes in the way we play and we've already made adjustments in the way we are working with the players," Cooper said. "I've already given the Super players the heads up as to how we are going to play but we want to see how some guys step up."
Asked to elaborate on the differences, Cooper said the style was based on the laws of the game and the interpretation of those laws by New Zealand referees.
"We just have to adjust to what the referees are doing here."
Crowley also believed he had the players to dramatically improve their kicking game from last season.
"We were shy on it last year and [James] Marshall and McKenzie, [Beauden] Waaka, Ngatai and Codey Rei are all good kickers of the ball. What we are saying is we want to get out of our 22 effectively this year instead of getting trapped there.
"The talent is there, we just have to bring it together."
- Taranaki Daily News
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