Alex Ainley to captain Tasman Makos in this year's provincial rugby championship
Experienced lock Alex Ainley will captain the Tasman Makos this season as Shane Christie's continued absence now extends into the Mitre 10 Cup.
Former skipper Christie missed the Highlanders' entire Super Rugby campaign due to medical concerns previously described as "concussion-like" symptoms, although Tasman chief executive Tony Lewis said that the 31-year-old flanker's situation continues to be managed.
"Shane Christie is not available for selection due to ongoing medical conditions from the Highlanders' season," Lewis said.
"He is working through the medical protocols regarding a return to play. Once he passes these he will be available for selection."
Christie took over as Tasman captain from Andrew Goodman in 2013 but now it's Ainley's turn at the helm.
It's a logical choice, with the 36-year-old 80-match veteran now one of only two foundation team members remaining in the squad. The other is hooker Ti'i Paulo, who was Tasman's captain in 2006 and returns after an 11-year absence, having played the last seven years in France.
"[Alex has] had the captaincy experience before and he obviously had the support of [head coach] Leon [MacDonald] and the coaches ... and the [Tasman] board thought it was a logical choice as well," Lewis said.
There are three new caps, prop Ryan Coxon, centre Levi Aumua and fullback Will Jordan, with Coxon and Jordan both members of the New Zealand team that won this year's Under-20 World Cup title in Georgia. Tasman winger Tima Faingaanuku was also part of that team.
Coxon hails from Tokoroa and at 118kg, can play both tighthead and loosehead but was selected for the New Zealand Under-20s as a tighthead.
He's played for the Waikato under-19s and for the New Zealand Secondary Schools Barbarians side in 2015. He signed a three-year contract with Tasman in June and comes highly recommended by Tasman assistant coach and former All Blacks prop Greg Somerville.
Auckland-born Aumua has spent most of his life in Australia and was part of the Brisbane Broncos rugby league set up before heading to France to play for French Top 14 rugby club Bordeaux-Begles. He returned to Brisbane to play club rugby for Souths and had the last season off due to injury.
The 117kg centre turns 23 in October and has signed a two-year contract with the Tasman union.
Jordan was still playing for the Christchurch Boys High School first XV just two seasons ago when he scored 19 tries in 11 games to finish the UC Championship as the competition's leading try-scorer.
He played for the Canterbury under-19s last year where his form was compelling enough to win selection in the New Zealand under-20 World Cup squad.
However, the talented trio join an otherwise experienced Tasman squad containing 16 Super Rugby players and now three All Blacks following Crusaders fullback David Havili's recent call-up as a replacement for the injured Jordie Barrett.
No 8 Liam Squire and prop Kane Hames both got game time during the All Blacks' warm-up fixture in Pukekohe last week.
"I think for the last four years you could say that every year we have the same philosophy to try and make the squad stronger than the year before and I think that's what we're trying to do," Lewis said.
Tasman kick of their Mitre 10 Cup campaign against defending champions Canterbury at Trafalgar Park on Friday at 7.35pm.
Forwards - Andrew Makalio, Ti'i Paulo, Ryan Coxon*, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Kane Hames, Tom Hill, Tim Perry, Alex Ainley (captain), Pari Pari Parkinson, Quinten Strange, Ethan Blackadder, Vernon Fredericks, Shannon Frizell, Pete Samu, Liam Squire, Jordan Taufua.
Backs - Finlay Christie, Billy Guyton, Mitchell Hunt, Tim O'Malley, Levi Aumua*, David Havili, Trael Joass, Alex Nankivell, Tima Faingaanuku, Will Jordan*, Viliami Lolohea, James Lowe.
* - denotes new cap.