Edwards back for Heartland competition

STU PIDDINGTON
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2013

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The return of Otago's Liam Edwards is the main feature of the first South Canterbury Heartland side of the season.

Coach Chester Scott has also named Shirley lock Hayden Mitchell as a second loan player and Lincoln centre Steve Burt as his "player of origin".

Edwards was South Canterbury's "player of the year" last season and his return will be important as he was not only the top try scorer but also a very reliable goal kicker.

Mitchell stands 1.96m and tips the scales at 115kg and has experience with Christchurch Metro sides.

He replaces Dutch international Stefan Vos, who returned home.

Burt played well last year at centre and impressed with some strong running and defence.

Scott said he was still negotiating with a couple of options for first five-eighth and the result may be the key to South Canterbury's success.

Injuries and visa problems have taken a toll on potential recruits.

The biggest blow is the loss of the hard running loose forward Sam Vea, who has had an operation on a troublesome hand.

Scott had also hoped his Harlequins team-mates, centre Paula Fifita and loose forward Joseteki Veikune, may have been available but they have returned to Tonga.

Other contenders opting out include wing Maile I'Ongi (going overseas), Mike Newman (work commitments) and Gary Tutunoa (returning to Auckland).

While halfback Sekope Maea was named there is a big question over his fitness as he was visibly restricted by a knee injury in the Hamersley Cup final, while veteran Scott Norton was also carrying an injury so Waimate's Theo Davidson will get a chance to impress. Kurt Rooney was also a late withdrawal, with injury concerns.

Willie Wright and Miles Medlicott are heading back to Ireland so were not considered.

There is depth in the squad, with 17 returning from last year, but it is the X-factor the squad is light on. Andrew Scarlett has been named as captain, having led the team in 2011.

Scott said as it was the first squad of the season the door was not closed on others.

"There is an opportunity for some of the guys to step up and show us what they have got."

One big surprise was the naming of midfielder Tristram Johnston, the 2009 Heartland captain.

The 31-year-old had quit representative rugby but Scott has encouraged him back in a midfield that is light. Scott said the key to Johnston's selection was that he was a good communicator.

Among those getting a chance to shine is Waimate loose forward-lock Loni Toumohuni and Old Boys loose forward Tim Penitani.

Mackenzie back utilty George Folau gets another chance to impress and is joined by team-mate Josh McAtamney.

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Preseason games include playing Marlborough in Timaru on August 10, then a combined Tasman under-20 and development team in Hanmer the following week.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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