Taranaki have turned to youth to replace midfielder Jayden Hayward.
New Zealand under-20 and former national schools second five-eighth Ope Peleseuma has signed a two-year deal to head north from Wellington.
The 20-year-old was a regular fixture in the capital side's squad throughout the National Provincial Championship but made just one start, against North Harbour, before his season ended because of a knee injury. He had surgery on his knee this week and will be back running in a month.
Tenderlink Taranaki coach Colin Cooper said he had his eye on Peleseuma before Hayward decided to head across the Tasman and join the Western Force.
"We've been watching him for a while and he certainly turned our heads in the trial and then for the New Zealand under-20 team.
"We've been talking to him since Jayden's departure and it was certainly nice to get him to sign here."
Peleseuma confirmed yesterday he had signed a Hurricanes wider training squad contract, which meant he would stay in Wellington for the club season and carry on his association with Hutt Old Boys Marist.
He is Taranaki's second new recruit for 2013, with rookie Chiefs hooker Rhys Marshall signing on during Taranaki's NPC season.
Taranaki's extra-time semifinal loss to Canterbury signalled the end of several players' immediate careers with the province, including Hayward, prop Michael Bent and hooker Laurence Corlett.
Regular centre Willie Rickards has also confirmed he has retired, while there is doubt over the return of veteran lock Jason Eaton and openside flanker Scott Waldrom.
Peleseuma was looking forward to immersing himself in the Taranaki rugby culture but the decision to leave Wellington had not been easy.
"It was pretty tough, to be honest, because I've been involved in all the age-group sides in Wellington growing up," he said. "But my pathway is pretty blocked there with all the guys they have got in midfield and this is a good opportunity to get on stage with Taranaki."
His best playing attribute was his ball running, Cooper said.
"He's got a natural ability to step and run and we think he will only get better and better," he said.
The signing of Peleseuma follows the arrival of New Zealand schools first five-eighth Beaudein Waaka, who has joined the Taranaki academy and will come under the eye of development manager Jono Phillips. The former Wellington man was also thought to be a strong influence in Taranaki snaring Peleseuma.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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