Top Taranaki team rolled out to face Waikato
Taranaki rugby coach Colin Cooper has wasted no time in putting out his best available line-up.
Cooper revealed his squad for Taranaki's first 2017 Mitre 10 Cup match against Waikato at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday night after training on Thursday with the major talking point being the decision to start Chiefs prop Mitchell Graham.
The loosehead has not started since he broke his leg in Brisbane in February but was always due to be available by the start of the Mitre 10 Cup.
Cooper said Graham had being scrummaging at training for a fortnight and he had no doubts he would be able to handle his return to first class rugby without any problems.
The depth in some positions Taranaki enjoy was evident by the fact Cooper could leave the likes of Crusaders wing Manasa Mataele, Chiefs midfielder Johnny Fa'auli and Hurricanes halfback Kylem O'Donnell out the match-day squad, although they have had little rugby of late and Cooper said they would play for the union's development side on Saturday.
"It's a long season and a few of them have little dings to get over," he said.
Cooper has resisted the temptation of bringing Crusaders wing Seta Tamanivalu back into the midfield to reunite the potent partnership with co-captain Charlie Ngatai, instead opting for Sean Wainui at centre with Tamanivalu wearing the No 11 jersey.
He felt Tamanivalu and Ngatai were not far away from All Blacks selection if they had injuries so he wanted to use them while he could.
The selection of Wainui gives Taranaki plenty of size and power through the middle and down the side of the field with Ngatai a key figure in creating something for either man.
Young Blues pivot Stephen Perofeta has got the nod at first five-eighth with Cooper's other option, Marty McKenzie, starting at fullback.
Perofeta has been in excellent form through the pre-season and undoubtedly deserved first crack.
The forward pack, too, was largely predictable with Pita-Gus Powakula to make his debut from blindside flanker with Toa Halafihi starting at No 8.
Former Blues and Waratahs prop Angus Ta'avao has been selected ahead of Mike Kainga at tighthead with the latter named on the bench.
Stratford-Eltham hooker Donald Maka will make his debut along with former Waikato loose forward Brad Tucker and halfback Logan Crowley if they come off the bench.
Cooper said guys like Graham and Ta'avao had provided a lot of positive leadership to the more inexperienced players in the short time they had been together.
At a glance
TARANAKI: Marty McKenzie, Declan O'Donnell, Sean Wainui, Charlie Ngatai (c), Seta Tamanivalu, Stephen Perofeta, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Toa Halafihi, Lachlan Boshier, Pita-Gus Powakula, Leon Power, Leighton Price, Angus Ta'avao, Sione Lea, Mitchell Graham. Reserves, Donald Maka, Jared Proffit, Mike Kainga, Brad Tucker, Adrian Wyrill, Logan Crowley, Beaudein Waaka, Latu Vaeno.