First-up victory good news for Middleton

GOOD IMPRESSION: Waikato lock Chris Middleton retains the ball during last week’s clash with  North Harbour. He  starts again tomorrow.
GOOD IMPRESSION: Waikato lock Chris Middleton retains the ball during last week’s clash with North Harbour. He starts again tomorrow.

Second game into Waikato's national rugby premiership campaign and there is no change.

Coaches Chris Gibbes and Scott McLeod have stuck with the same 22 that opened with a 42-22 win over North Harbour last weekend for tomorrow's ITM Cup showdown with Northland and that is good news for Te Awamutu Sports lock Chris Middleton.

The 1.99 metre 25-year-old only got three starts last season for the Waikato team and until last weekend they were the only ones he had had in 11 appearances for the Mooloos in his two seasons at Waikato since moving from Wellington.

But with Toby Lynn, who attended training yesterday as a spectator during a week-long visit from Perth where he is contracted to the Western Force, and Dominiko Waqaniburotu now both playing overseas the opportunities have opened up in the second row of the Waikato scrum.

Middleton locked with the more experienced Romana Graham against Harbour and certainly made a good impression with both his contribution to the Waikato set-pieces and his general work around the field.

"Obviously with Toby gone and Dom gone there are only me and Rom left around [from last season] so it's an awesome opportunity," Middleton said.

"Obviously Gibbo has given me a good chance to get out there and have a good run but one game doesn't make a season so I'm pretty keen to get some consistency and play some good footy week in, week out."

Middleton said Waikato's preparation had been "pretty rigorous" since January and that had provided a solid pre-season buildup which would hopefully enable the players to handle the short turnarounds that were part of the national premiership.

While Waikato were playing two championship division teams in their first two fixtures, Middleton said he had found the opener against North Harbour a good test.

"It was pretty tough. It was quite quick the first 30 minutes and I was thinking: ‘I don't know how I'm going to keep that up for a whole 80', but I found my second wind and Gibbo gave us a bit of a rark-up at halftime which put us in good stead for the second half."

Middleton felt Waikato's set-pieces had gone well against Harbour, providing a satisfactory starting point for the season.

"There are obviously little things we need to pick up on, but it's a start and from here on in we've just got to keep working hard and get the little things right," he said.

Head coach Gibbes, an ex-lock himself, said Graham and Middleton had done a really good job first up.

"We've got Sam Kilgour and Josh Olsen sitting out there in the background working hard as well and it's only a matter of time before they get an opportunity," Gibbes said.

"I'm sure when they do they'll be grabbing it, but all those boys in that tight five were working hard and laid a pretty good platform for us last week.

"Now they've got to do the job again this week against a pretty fiery Northland team." Gibbes said he had been pleased with the way the team had started the season and the retention of the same 22 was something of a reward for them ahead of a schedule of three games in eight days in a fortnight's time.

"I think what's important for us is that we've got to get our game going and we've got to keep building on what we've done. This 22 will give us that continuity and then, obviously, we've got a short week coming up after Auckland so we've got a couple of weeks to get a few things right before that."

In the wake of a number of departures overseas from last year's squad, particularly of several name players, Gibbes said he was pleased at the emergence of players keen to step up and lead.

"The thing that pleases us the most at the moment is that we didn't quite get everything on our own terms against North Harbour and they had to fight hard for a lot of that and I thought some of the characteristics and some of the things they showed were really what we wanted."

Waikato: Trent Renata, Tim Mikkelson, Save Tokula, Jackson Willison, Declan O'Donnell, Sam Christie, Tawera Kerr- Barlow, Alex Bradley (c), Zak Hohneck, Matt Vant Leven, Romana Graham, Chris Middleton, Ben May, Marcel Cummings- Toone, Toby Smith. Reserves: Kalem Chan Boon, Ted Tauroa, Sam Kilgour, Jono Armstrong, Brendon Leonard, Piers Francis, Glen Robertson.