Powerful Tukapa chases three-peat
Defending champions Tukapa will be out to set a new club record and make it three successive titles.
Having won back-to-back titles for the first time since 1969, the club has arguably put together the strongest squad in its history.
The New Plymouth side has strength front-to-back, with an abundance of quality front-rowers, while its second row has been strengthened with the arrival of former Hawke's Bay and Bay of Plenty lock Leighton Price.
Taranaki flanker Chris Walker will lead a loose forward combination that has been strengthened by the arrival of openside specialist Adrian Wyrill from Waikato, while third-term coach Kelvin McDowell will be hoping Blade Thomson is made available from the Hurricanes wider training group.
The competition's rookie of the year last season, Jamison Gibson-Park, will form a good partnership with first five-eighth Jack Cameron, while the midfield is likely to feature past or present rep players Isaia Tuifua, Pomare Samupo and Nathan Hohaia.
Wing Whaimotu Craft-Chemis will be an early favourite for top try-scorer in the competition.
McDowell's biggest challenge appears to be working out how to shuffle his resources, although injuries can influence any campaign.
TUKAPA: Forwards, Tony Penn (captain), Carl Carmichael, Baxter King, Ben Siffleet, Callum Ireland, Laurence Corlett, Leighton Price, Josh Hickford, Alec Dravitzki, Vince Proctor, Chris Walker, Adrian Wyrill, Brooke Weck, Alfred Veikoso, Hau Latavau, Blade Thomson; backs, Jamison Gibson-Park, Josh Sandford, Jack Cameron, Isaia Tuifua, Pomare Samupo, Jesse McLay, Whaimotu Craft-Chemis, Lagen Kumeroa, Orisi Belau, Nathan Hohaia, Sean Curd, Ryan Bishop, Nathan Maharey. Coach, Kelvin McDowell.
NEW PLYMOUTH OLD BOYS
Beaten finalists in 2011, New Plymouth Old Boys appear to be struggling in some areas, if you believe the noises coming out of the White House in recent weeks.
The front row could be the biggest problem for the club, especially if injuries hit, although they have some experienced players like Hamish Mitchell, Andrew Gadsby and Jeremy Burton, a list some clubs would be happy to have. Trent Sutton and Dean Stewart will form a gnarled locking combination, although they lack genuine height, while the loose forwards – Jono Crossan, Dave Riley and Ben Souness – will be among the most mobile.
Two new halfbacks have been named by coaches Phil Mitchell and Tony Earl, with Hamuera Baker arriving from Manawatu while Jeremy Thomas has left Canterbury to head north.
Taranaki utility back Frazier Climo will captain the side, although it is not clear if he will play in the No10 jersey or play from fullback. While Taranaki coach Colin Cooper views Climo as a wing, his club coaches will not be able to waste his talents away from the play.
Former Tasman utility back James Marshall will play for Old Boys if he is released from the Hurricanes wider training group.
NEW PLYMOUTH OLD BOYS: Forwards, Andrew Gadsby, James Wilson, Jeremy Burton, Hamish Mitchell, Darren Brown, Dean Stewart, Trent Sutton, Dave Wakeling, Ric Fabish, Jono Crossan, Johnny Marshall, Ben Souness, Dave Riley; backs, Hamuera Baker, Jeremy Thomas, Wayne Matson, Frazier Climo (captain), Ross Allan, Adam Laititi, Emosi Masivou, Chad Niwa, John Suter, Patrick Parle, Matt Geange. Coaches, Phil Mitchell and Tony Earl.
If there is one side that could push Tukapa close this season it is Coastal. Beaten semifinalists in 2011, coach Joe Lawn has been lucky enough to retain the vast majority of his squad. Coastal was the only side not to be beaten by Tukapa last season and do look to have a balanced pack to complement an efficient backline.
Impressive former Francis Douglas Memorial College prop Andrew Trolove will get a first taste of senior rugby alongside experienced front-row players Isaac Cook, Rhys Morgan, Mitch Campbell and James Murphy.
The most interest in the pack could be how Taranaki lock Kane Barrett has recovered from a troublesome shoulder injury which robbed him of most of his 2011 season. In the backs, veteran halfback Brett Goodin will be out to show he sits at the top of the pecking order with the departure of Tyson Keats, while Mark Davis is a more than solid performer at first five-eighth.
Lawn has optimistically named Hurricanes star Beauden Barrett in his squad, although the chances of Mark Hammett releasing the 20-year-old look faint, to say the least. One name missing this season is midfielder Phil Barron, who has finally hung up his boots – at senior level at least.
COASTAL: Forwards, Andrew Trolove, Isaac Cook, Rhys Morgan, Hamish Lawn, Mitch Campbell, James Murphy, Dan Fitzharris, Patrick Stevenson, Aiden Gent, Kane Barrett, Jeremy Newell, Jean-Pierre Le Prou, Jade Fleming, Kelvin Weir, Nick Lawn (captain); backs, Brett Goodin, John Julian, Brent Stevenson, Mark Davis, Beauden Barrett, Te Waiti Mareikura, Chris Barron, Gareth Goodin, Michel Julian, Steve Barron. Coach, Joe Lawn.
Clifton proved many pundits wrong last season by making the semifinals on the back of number of good, tough performances.
Coach Chris Moller has managed to retain the majority of his squad, although a number of players will have to juggle work commitments to be available.
There is little doubt, when fully fit, that Clifton has the forward pack to unsettle any opposition. Whether a number of those players stay or even start that way is the big question.
Respected former Taranaki lock Scott Breman will demand a high standard from the pack, while second five-eighth Brad Cooper is growing into the captaincy role.
Lock Tyrone O'Carroll could also be an influential player, along with prop Sione Lea.
Halfback Kylem O'Donnell will also be a player to watch if he continues to miss selection in the New Zealand sevens side.
O'Donnell would have every right to feel frustrated at being overlooked for higher honours and needs to show selectors throughout the country what he is capable of. Hopefully that will start on the field for Clifton.
CLIFTON:Forwards, Zane Neil, Ryan Cocker, Kris Moller, Tangi Taike, Sione Lea, Taylor Jackson, Mark Shaw, Scott Breman, Tyrone O'Carroll, Matt White, Daniel Dreaver, Dane Kendall, Shae Moon, Chris Black, Jake Ward; backs, Jeremy O'Callaghan, Kylem O'Donnell, Steven Warner, Brad Cooper (captain), Shaun Cooper, Eddie Ule, Josh Kendall, Adam Warner, Matt Dick, Tony Stewart, Geoff Davis, Brandon Pokere. Coach, Chris Moller.
New coach Bernard O'Sullivan will start the job without regular captain and hardworking loose forward Germaine Anaha.
Anaha's loss because of work commitments has been offset, somewhat, with the arrival of former Canterbury ITM Cup squad member Berny Hall, who will form an effective loose forward trio including new captain Heiden Bedwell-Curtis and former New Zealand schoolboys rep Mitchell Brown.
Although young, the combination could turn out to be one of the most exciting in the competition.
Having missed out on the top four for the first time in a number of years, Inglewood will be desperate to get back to near the top of the competition.
Where they could struggle is in the backs, where they have already lost fullback Scott Rumball for the year with a knee injury he sustained during the preseason.
His place at the back will be taken by Telly Hemopo, leaving the way clear for the return of Chris Brown at first five-eighth after several seasons away. Brown has been playing in South Africa and could prove to be a reliable goalkicker. Former Taranaki halfback Wayne Dombroski will assist O'Sullivan after doing good work with the club's B side.
INGLEWOOD:Forwards, Luke Bunn, Chris Gyde, Lance White, Ben Steiner, Mark Hale, Timo Tutavaha, Caleb Thompson, Brendon Lyon, Paul Petrowski, Maifea Maifea, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (captain), Mitchell Brown, Berny Hall, Wiremu McSeveny, Ben Baylis, Ryan Hucker; backs, Chris Bayens, Lindsay Horrocks, Ben Rust, Chris Brown, James Oakes, Cole Brown, Daryl Gladding, Pele Muagututia, Mike Gibbins, Avon Lewis, Telly Hemopo. Coach, Bernard O'Sullivan.
Taranaki Daily News