Bulk of Southland Stags squad retained
Rugby Southland has managed to retain the bulk of its 2010 Stags squad but there are no big name signings looming on the horizon.
Southland's seventh-placed finish in this year's national provincial championships does not reflect the emotional year the Stags produced during a season which saw them top the table for much of the competition and retain the Ranfurly Shield through six successful defences.
What was obvious as the season progressed, however, was the lack of finishing power in the team – particularly when Kendrick Lynn pulled out of the campaign to have groin surgery.
Australian sevens player James Lew, partner of new Southern Steel netball signing Natasha Chokjlat, is a handy acquisition, while there is some excitement around the return home of Marty McKenzie, son of former Southland player and All Black triallist Brent McKenzie.
McKenzie junior has had a stellar schoolboy career with Christ's College in Christchurch, finishing this year's Press Cup secondary schools competition as the leading tryscorer (26) and points scorer (236), some 62 points better than the next highest performer.
Three Southland Boys' High School players – first-five Scott Eade, flanker Alex Taylor and prop Tuki Raimona – have been named on academy contracts, bolstering squad numbers up to 28.
Rugby Southland expects to name some more young players in the next week or so, but the encroaching salary cap has played a part in its negotiations.
Despite some big crowds this season, the union is not expected to post a profit.
The salary cap for next season is set at a maximum of $1.35 million, but Southland's limit will be more like $1.2m because the final figure is based on a percentage of professional revenue.
Missing from next year's contract list is Tony Koonwaiyou, who the Southland Times reported this week had broken his leg in mysterious circumstances.
Given it's the third time Koonwaiyou has broken his leg in the past few years, his future is in serious doubt – a real shame given the form he was starting to produce.
Pehi Te Whare is also off contract following a season where he was generally surplus to requirements.
Lock Joe Tuineau is probably the most high-profile casualty.
Josh Bekhuis' regular locking partner is off contract and exploring his options with a view to next year's World Cup.
He could be eligible to play for Fiji, Tonga, the United States or New Zealand and at this stage is only committed to playing a second season for the Highlanders.
Rugby Southland chief executive Roger Clark told The Southland Times the union remained keen on Tuineau, but his availability could be severely limited by any World Cup participation.
Tuineau was investigating his options at the moment and he could be a "game by game" prospect for the Stags next season.
Jason Morgan and Mike Newman have retained their contracts despite serious knee and thumb injuries, respectively, while big Aucklander Michael Fatialofa is another player for the future.
Hua Tamariki, Dion Bates, Mark Wells, Seminar Manu, Sonny Rangitoheriri and Nick Annear are without contracts and have been told they need to force their case in Southland club rugby next season.
While both Jimmy and Scott Cowan have been contracted, it's likely Jimmy will play no part with the Stags next year because of his All Black commitments, meaning both Rangitoheriri and Annear will have plenty to play for.
Fullback: Marty McKenzie, Jason Morgan. Wing: Glen Horton*, Matt Saunders, James Paterson. Centre/midfield: Mike Newman, Kendrick Lynn, James Lew. First fives: Robbie Robinson, Scott Eade**, James Wilson*. Halfback: Scott Cowan, Jimmy Cowan. Loose forwards: Elliot Dixon, Tim Boys, John Hardie, Alex Taylor**. Locks: Alex Ryan, Josh Bekhuis, Michael Fatialofa. Props: Chris King, Nic Barrett, Jamie Mackintosh, Micheal Peterson, Tuki Raimona**. Hookers: Jason Rutledge, David Hall, Brayden Mitchell.*in negotiations **academy contracts --------------------
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