Celtic look likely – but plenty of uncertainty
The 2014 Hamersley Cup senior rugby competition kicks off today, with Celtic favoured to make it five in a row.
Pleasant Point and Harlequins seem likely contenders for the top four while Waimate, Temuka and Mackenzie will likely battle out the last remaining spot.
Celtic start the season with a road trip to Fairlie to take on Mackenzie.
The Rams are always tough at home but the defending champions have retained their depth, especially up front.
They have also added one of Old Boys best forwards, with Tim Penitani making the switch.
The hard running loose forward could, however, make his appearance in the midfield.
Mackenzie have managed to retain the majority of their squad as well but don't have Celtic's depth off the bench.
Veteran midfielder Faa'itu Tuamoheloa is back, which is a big bonus for the Rams but lock-loose forward Andrew Scarlett is out for up to six weeks with a knee injury, taking some punch out of the pack.
Last season's finalists Pleasant Point head to Geraldine and should be too good for the hosts.
Geraldine biggest recruit is likely to be new coach Gerard Mackle and it will be interesting to see what he can produce from a largely local squad.
They do, however, welcome back former New Zealand Heartland representative Jared Trevathan from Perth, and he is likely to add plenty of impact.
Pleasant Point would dearly love to add a second championship title in their 125th jubilee year.
Like Celtic they have retained plenty of players, but their achilles heel may move from goal kicking to the front row.
Big Mike Tuiloma has gone back up north so coaches Gavin Miller and Graham Sharp will be sweating on the availability of Jon Sharpe and Aofia Fagalima.
Former New Zealand Heartland XV front rower Ben Hewitson returns in May, and he will give the Mud Dogs a timely boost.
Pleasant Point have also recruited a couple of young loose forwards from Northland, Mana Taylor and Sean Rawiri, so it will be interesting to see how they stand up.
Old Boys start with a difficult match-up, with Waimate travelling to Alpine Energy Stadium.
Over the past three seasons Old Boys have held the wooden spoon or just avoided it so their supporters will be hoping for a change of luck with new coach Paul Tree.
Tree has a number of new players but how much of an impact they will have is unknown.
They have, however, recruited handy utility back Tanu Suavine from Celtic and his experience will be helpful.
Waimate have lost several handy players from last season so will be relying heavily on new coaches but old faces Barry Matthews and Grant McFarlane.
Shane Speirs went back to Pleasant Point, rugged loose forward Blair Morris suffered a serious injury pre-season, while Peter Little is also on the injured list and Scott Buckingham has retired.
Two young backs who showed plenty of promise are also missing.
Miles Medlicott is overseas while Kurt Rooney is out after a health scare last year.
The positive side of the ledger sees talented midfielder Jarrod Hayman return from his OE.
Harlequins and Temuka could be the closest battle of the weekend, with the game also at Alpine Energy Stadium.
Harlequins have had the edge over the Magpies but it has never been easy.
One player missing from the Harlequins squad is former captain Craig Miller.
Miller played in their inaugural year back in 1998 and has been a constant ever since.
In his absence Harlequins have welcomed back one of South Canterbury's most colourful players, Sione 'Tui' Tauelangi, at the age of 35.
Tauelangi had been forced into an early retirement in 2010 after a neck injury.
He wanted to play on but could not get a New Zealand Rugby Union clearance so switched to playing league for the Timaru Warriors.
At his best he was one of the most devastating runners around South Canterbury club rugby, so it will be interesting to see how he fronts up.
Temuka have promoted six players from their senior B team and added two Fijians, outside back Erenimo Tau and halfback-first five Rupeni Cokanasiga.
Coach Dave Fisher will be looking for more consistency from his side if they are to threaten the play-offs.
It is likely to take a few weeks to sort out but with six new head coaches in eight teams and enormous changes in personnel, nothing can be taken for granted.
Heartland coach Chester Scott will, however, be hoping to unearth a couple of new jewels for his representative side once the competition takes shape.
Old Boys: Via Aurili, Cameron Westaby, Felise Fa'avea, Michal Edmondson, KP Smith, Kris O'Sullivan, Junior Fa'avea, Jarrod Copper, Tyrone Hill, Tolu, Tanu Seuali, Doug Hill, Adam Young, Brad Leonard, Felise Gaogao, Sam Bland, Maturo Siaosi, Ben Rawcliff, Gary Tutuna, David Fifita, Joseph O'Loughlin, Robert Huff, Tyler O'Leary, Raisati Lasi, Gill Samoa
Waimate: Simon Bleeker, Tim Caird, Aaron Clarke, Theo Davidson, Jamie Engelbreht, Connor Farrell, Toko Fakatava, Richard Ford, Dion Glenie, Jade Halkett, Jarrod Hayman, Matt Hayman, Jackson Henshaw, Shannon Howe, Jacob Lightfoot, Sam Matson, Jared Matthews, Joshua O,Neill, Foa Tagiaia, Loni Toumohuni
Celtic: Nick Strachan (c), Matt Fetu, Garrett Casey, Jeremy Bailey, Foi Siena, Jason Rooney, Jimmy Bown, Tevita Taufa, Ben Simpson, Matt Stewart, Vinny, Tom Bolton, Tom Fleming, Sione Vae, Tim Penitani, Kali Latu, Andrew Darling, Tom Watson, Hamish Strachan, James Allwood, Jamie Gallagher, Henry Race, Jarrard Mannix, Cody McMinn, Saosi Latu, Ben Beard, Tevita Latu, Sekope Maea, Patola Tupuola
Harlequins: Timaru Tafa, Sikeli Tubunavere, Lusa Latu, Nathan Tubb, Chris McCarthy, Harry Lewis, Tui Tuaelangi, Jamie Cameron, Kamahl Tackney, Sam Vea, Teki Veikune, Dave Taunauvai, Ally Duddell, Scott Norton, Hau Kaumatule, Paula Fifita, Malie I'Ongi, Matt Young, Roy Peters
Pleasant Point: Jeremy Cunningham, Alistair Christie, Daniel Turner, Jon Sharpe, James Wallace, James Christie, Ben Hewitson, Michael Hessell, Daniel Groundwater, Hamish Westgarth, Damien O'Sullivan, Sean Rawiri, Mana Taylor, Luke Brice, Grant McKerchar, Paddy Ryan, Aaron Geary, Brad Tegelaars, Bryce Shearer, Shane Spiers, Michael Newman, Jon Peeters, Simon Murray, Hayden Dwyer, Josh Bradley, Josh Robson.
Temuka: Matt Donehue, Cody Hilligers, Aifala Taelega, Michael Dillane, Dillon Demchy, Ben Hayes, Hayden Kellas, Keith Darby, Dylan Sawyers, Semisi Paseka, Cainen Paea, Joeili Kotobalvu, Paula Fonokalafi, Josh Rooney, Jimmy Mookkaiah, Jaedon Gibson, Ricky Neame, Shaun Neame, Blair Struthers, Sunia Vatunilagi, Tenari Saumani, Issac Boorer, Eugene Waihape, Erenimo Tau, Rupeni Cokanasiga
Mackenzie: Charles Aho, Johnny Andrews, Aaron McCall, Cam Brenssell, Sam Forsyth, Bradley Oliver, Stu Cartwright, George Lott, Will Hand, Josh Morton, Faa'itu Tuamoheloa, Josh McAtamney, George Folau, Heath Forsyth, Adam Gage, Jonathon Blair, Joe O'Sullivan, Danny Waldron, Daniel Wieldraayer, Henry Murray, Andrew Scarlett
Geraldine: Calendar Strowger, Johnny Burnside, Dan Cummings, Peter Saywell, Ricky McCall, Aaron England, Richard Harley (c), Cole Harris, Ryan Neutze, Hamish Pawson, Jimmy Paewhenua, Gideon Snow, Kevin Moore, Lance Caffell, Jared Trevathan, Dan Hall, Alex Batchelor, Hayden Powell, Ben Jaunay, Aaron Coles, Aaron Gregan, Kieran Akers
- The Timaru Herald