Sport: A lack of player depth at heart of Stingrays' indifferent season
Counties Manukau Stingrays are hugely relieved to still be a top tier rugby league province.
They stayed put after their lopsided 13-try 64-4 demolition of the Bay of Plenty in their national competition promotion/relegation play off at Mt Smart Stadium on October 7.
But as welcome as the result is for players and supporters, coach Rod Ratu worries for the Stingrays' chance of winning a national championship any time soon.
He says there are two few players with Fox Memorial Trophy experience to select from these days.
"We don't have the depth that we used to anymore. I don't know whether it is cyclical, a rebuilding era, or whether its a symptom of where the province is really at.
"But it was difficult to put a hardened and experienced team together when you had three teams, the Howick Hornets, the Papakura Sea Eagles and the Mangere East Hawks, playing Fox and five clubs, the Otahuhu Leopards, the Manukau Magpies, the Papatoetoe Panthers, the Manurewa Marlins and the Pakuranga Jaguars playing Sharman Cup.
"There were fewer quality players to pick from. It's a turn around from when the Stingrays won the title in 2014," he says.
But the champion coach remains optimistic. He says he is encouraged by Otahuhu's return to the Fox as it will offer selectors more choice than they had this year.
Ratu says his team was mightily relieved to be still a premier side.
"I always knew they had it in them but I don't think they did," he says of their playoff performance.
Five Stingrays were selected for higher honours despite of the team's underwhelming performance.
Prop, Uila Aiolupo, fullback, George Edwards (Sea Eagles) and second rower John Vuetibau (Hornets) made the New Zealand Residents' XIII while centre, Royden Gillett and and loose forward Reece Joyce (Hornets) made the Maori XIII.
Ratu says the five were the Stingrays' best and deserved their selection.
And Counties Manukau had mixed results at the national youth competition.
The under-17s won their championship, beating the Akarana Falcons 26-18 in the final. The under-15s finished third beating Waicoa Bay 18-6 in the playoff.