Tasman Makos tame Lions in Seddon
The Tasman Makos underlined their player depth and Mitre 10 Cup premiership readiness with a 54-33 victory over the Wellington Lions in a free-flowing pre-season rugby encounter at Seddon on Thursday.
The Makos, who fielded a side containing a mix of contracted players and emerging talent, showed pace, power and finishing prowess to score four converted tries during a first half which they dominated almost throughout.
Wellington were a willing opponent but the home side's line speed on defence meant they had very few opportunities to score, their only try coming courtesy of former Mako Trent Renata after 25 minutes. Meanwhile, Tasman regularly touched down. Their first try came from impressive No 8 Vernon Fredericks after a scrum pushover, a rarity these days, while the others were created by a potent backline, led by fullback Will Jordan who showed why he is held in such high regard.
The news earlier in the day that utility David Havili had been called into the All Blacks was cause for celebration in the region, but left fans wondering how he would be replaced in the Tasman midfield. As if on cue, three potential midfield contenders put their hands up. Alex Nankivell, Trael Joass and Levi Aumua all score a brace of tries, their lively displays no doubt easing the Makos selectors' minds.
Aumua, who replaced Viliami Lolohea on the wing in the first half, has an impressive physique and adds speed and nimble footwork to his repertoire. Formerly a part of the Broncos league system, the youngster played club rugby in the Queensland capital and is clearly one to watch.
Nankivell, Joass, winger Tima Faingaanuku and Jordan were able to show their footwork and pace thanks to some quick ball delivered smoothly by halfback Billy Guyton and first five Tim O'Malley, who linked well and kicked superbly for goal, converting seven of Tasman's eight tries, some from out wide.
The addition of seasoned Highlanders Siua Halanukonuka and Alex Ainley added guile and steel to the Makos pack, while Fredericks, flanker Tone Ng Shiu, lock Ethan Blackadder, hooker Ti'i Paulo and prop Tom Hill were willing and penetrative carriers while working efficiently at the breakdowns, an area Tasman dominated.
The teams shared the honours 26-26 in the final 40, both sides adding four more tries as the game loosened up as players came and went. Wellington probably got better value from their bench, although No 8 Willis Scott, halfback Ben Finau and midfielder James Hawkey added value for the Makos.
There were not a lot of familiar names in the Wellington line-up, suggesting this was very much a development combination, but among players to stand out were hooker Ben Power, lock Kane Thompson, No 8 James Blackwell, plus wingers Paddy Hughes and Malo Tuitama, who bagged a hat-trick of tries. Replacements Sitiveni Paongo, Dan Kirkpatrick, Carlos Price and Greg Foe were impressive off the bench.
Although the Makos squad for their 2017 campaign has been named, Thursday's efforts show there is no shortage of talent waiting in the wings.
Tasman head coach Leon MacDonald, who was back with the Makos after a successful campaign as Crusaders' assistant coach, was pleased with what he saw.
"I think our first half was outstanding, especially for a group missing a lot of our normal starters. [Assistant coaches] Leo Crowley, Andrew Goodman and Greg Somerville have done a great job in my absence to work them into a cohesive unit.
"I was also happy with the leadership of Ethan Blackadder, both in the way he played and how he led the group. He's come such a long way as a football player in the past 24 months. Vernon Fredericks was outstanding as well. Them, and T'i Paulo who will bring a real toughness and physicality to the forwards, were the pillars of the pack."
MacDonald hailed the elevation of Havili to the top echelon as "great news".
"I'm really proud for Dave, he's a home-grown Mako All Black, grown up in Motueka and schooled at Nelson College ... he's worked really, really hard at his game. It's that tenacity and work ethic that has got him the black jersey.
"We are thrilled ... we would love to have him in our team but we love the fact that he's an All Black even more."
Scorers: Tasman Makos 54 (Levi Aumua 2, Alex Nankivell 2, Trael Joass 2, Willis Scott, Vernon Fredericks tries, Tim O'Malley 7 con) Wellington 33 (Malo Tuitama 3, Trent Renata, Lester Maulolo tries, Jackson Garden Bachop 4 con). HT: 28-7 Tasman
2017 Tasman Makos squad
Hookers: Andrew Makalio (Harlequins - 11 Makos caps), Ti'i Paulo (Renwick 9). Props: Ryan Coxon (Waikato - uncapped), Siosiua Halanukonuka (Highlanders 38), Kane Hames (Chiefs 14), Tom Hill (Stoke 1), Tim Perry (Crusaders 51). Locks: Alex Ainley (Highlanders 80 - captain), Pari Pari Parkinson (Stoke 3), Quinten Strange (Crusaders 11). Back row: Ethan Blackadder (Nelson 9), Vernon Fredericks (Crusaders/Moutere 46), Shannon Frizell (Marist 12), Pete Samu (Crusaders 29), Liam Squire (Highlanders 38), Jordan Taufua (Crusaders 10). Halfbacks: Finlay Christie (Chiefs 10), Billy Guyton (Blues 42). First fives: Mitchell Hunt (Crusaders 12), Tim O'Malley (Waitohi 1). Midfield: Levi Aumua (Kahurangi - uncapped), David Havili (Crusaders 31), Trael Joass (Wanderers 11), Alex Nankivell (Chiefs 15). Outside backs: Tima Faingaanuku (Nelson 8), Will Jordan (Christchurch - uncapped), Viliami Lolohea (Harlequins 13), James Lowe (Chiefs 37).