Sun, Aug 14, 2022 6:00 AM

Rep rugby resurrection


Tessa Jaine

It’s time to get those fins up again. After grappling with Covid restrictions for the past two seasons, provincial rugby has been given the green, or is that orange, light in 2022, with crowds welcomed back and a full, exciting schedule to look forward to.

Words: Peter Jones | Photos: Shuttersport

Over the next few months, the Tasman Rugby Union will field a wide array of representative teams. Set to provide a feast of top-class sport are the Mako men, Mako women, Tasman Development, Te Tauihu Māori and Tasman under-19 sides, plus resurrected Nelson Bays Griffins and Marlborough Red Devils sub-union teams.

The Mako men, runner-up to Waikato in the NPC premiership last season, face a slightly different challenge this time around, but with the same ultimate prize. The previous two-tier competition has been abandoned, replaced by a dual-conference format designed to give every one of the 14 provincial sides a chance of being crowned NPC champion at season’s end. The two conferences were based on the previous season’s standings, with teams playing all six conference rivals, as well as four cross-conference games.

Halfback Hannah Kelly will lead the Mako women’s team in 2022.

The top four teams in each conference will qualify for quarterfinals, with the top two teams across the conferences playing against each other in the semis. Winners will meet in the NPC final. Tasman have been handed a testing draw. They will play Southland, Canterbury, Wellington, Taranaki and Northland at home, while tackling Otago, North Harbour, Manawatu, Auckland and Hawke’s Bay away.

Once again, the team’s make-up will be dictated to some extent by the whims of the All Blacks’ selectors. Already five Mako backs have been chosen to wear the coveted silver fern – Sevu Reece, Will Jordan, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Finlay Christie. Others, including former All Blacks Tyrel Lomax and Shannon Frizell, are on the fringe of selection. However, there is plenty of depth in the Mako ranks, honed over the previous three campaigns, two of which were successful.

The selectors will not have far to look for established talent, with a swathe of Mako men turning out for various Super Rugby Pacific teams. The Tasman Super Rugby players were Anton Segner, Christie (Blues); Atu Moli and Alex Nankivell (Chiefs); Lomax (Hurricanes); Quinten Strange, Ethan Blackadder, Sione Havili Talitui, Havili, Reece, Jordan and Fainga’anuku (Crusaders); Andrew Makalio, Max Hicks, Hugh Renton, Frizell, Mitch Hunt and Fetuli Paea (Highlanders); Sam Moli, Isi Tu’ungafasi, Willie Havili, Levi Aumua and Timoci Tavatavanawai (Moana Pasifika), plus Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta (Fijian Drua).

Although the majority of the Mako squad will come out of Super Rugby, there will be space for players from the Tasman club scene.

There has been some major change on the coaching front, Gray Cornelius and Dan Perrin assuming the co-head coach role this season, with the departure of Andrew Goodman and Shane Christie.

However, rather than attempting to recruit coaches from outside the area, the Tasman executive put their faith in two men who have steadily progressed through the local scene, one from each side of the hill. Both men are well aware of lofty expectations, given the success Goodman and Christie achieved in previous seasons. “They are massive shoes to fill,” said Gray. “I have been privileged to be around excellent coaches like Derms [Clarke Dermody], Goody and Shane … now they are gone, but that is exciting and I am looking forward to the challenge.” Gray has worked with Dan in the Mako set-up and with the Tasman under-20s, so knows how he operates.

“What is important for Dan and I is to keep the things that have been successful for us and the Mako team, but also to add our own flavour … we don’t have to change anything dramatically but we have got to be ourselves and hopefully that will help the team get better.

“The Mako coaching environment is a really collaborative set-up … we have people with head roles, but everybody pitches in … gone are the days when you have one guy up the top and everything starts and finishes with him. It has got to be a team effort, you have to get everybody’s buy-in.”

The promising Max Hicks returns after a breakthrough season with the Highlanders.

Mako women

A revamped Tasman Mako women’s side will take part in the Farah Palmer Cup. They are scheduled to play three of their five round robin matches on home turf, hosting North Island powerhouses Taranaki (Saturday, July 3), North Harbour (Sunday, August 7) and Hawke’s Bay (Saturday, August 20). The Harbour clash will be played at Lansdowne Park, the others at Trafalgar Park.

In early July, Tasman rugby announced a 30-woman squad with an exciting mix of young and more experienced players.

Leading the team will be halfback Hannah Kelly, one of 15 players returning from last season’s original squad. Sharing the vice-captaincy in 2022 will be seasoned loose forwards Sui Pauaraisa and Tamara Silcock.

The majority of the squad come from the three clubs - Marist (11), winners of this season’s club title, Kahurangi (7) and Waimea Old Boys (6). Two hail from Marlborough’s Moutere club while four players have been brought in from Canterbury to boost playing depth. A wider training squad of seven players has also been named.

The Tasman women’s side struggled in 2021. After making a promising start to their season with a 35-32 loss to North Harbour they were beaten by Taranaki and Northland before finishing their season with heavy defeats to Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu. This year they kick off their FPC competition in Whangarei on Saturday, July 23 against Northland.

The team will again be coached by former Black Fern Mel Bosman, the only female head coach in the competition. She will be assisted by former Mako halfback, Billy Guyton, who coached Marist to their NBS Tasman Trophy senior women’s club premiership this season.

Mel says she’s excited about the season ahead, with an ever-growing pool of talent to select from. “On the back of some strong performances in the senior women’s club competition, we’ll be able to name a competitive squad for the FPC campaign”, she added.

Te Tauihu Māori

This looms as a big year for the Te Tauihu Māori side, especially with the annual Te Waipounamu tournament due to be hosted by Tasman at Blenheim’s Lansdowne Park in early October. Te Tauihu Māori will be coached by Darcy Grooby and Shannon Thompson.

On August 20, a Wakatu v Wairau match is scheduled for Tahunanui from which a side will be chosen to attend the Wellington Maori tournament on September 9-10. Te Tauihu then play Pasifika in Nelson, Tasman Development in Blenheim before taking the South Island’s best at the Te Waipounamu festival.

Tasman under-19

Gary Stevens, Tito Elisara and Hamish McKerrow will coach what shapes as a powerful Tasman under-19 side. They will play Wellington away on August 13, Canterbury in Murchison on August 27, then Otago and Southland in Christchurch on September 3 and 6 respectively.

Tasman Development

This side has a four-match programme, beginning with a game against Canterbury in Kaikoura against Canterbury on September 3. They play Pasifika in Nelson on September 10, then Wellington away a week later before a final hit-out against Te Tauihu on September 24.

Seddon Shield

Welcomed back to the senior provincial scene after a two-year absence are the Marlborough Red Devils and Nelson Bays Griffins, who will once again do battle for the much-prized Seddon Shield.

The prestigious trophy came into being in 1906, when the Marlborough, West Coast, Buller and Nelson Rugby Unions purchased a handsome trophy for competition among the four unions. The shield was named after Richard John Seddon, the West Coast miner who became one of New Zealand's outstanding Prime Ministers.

Marlborough hold the shield and are scheduled to defend it against Heartland side Buller in Blenheim on July 31, West Coast in Murchison on August 6, then Nelson Bays in Blenheim at Lansdowne Park on August 13. If either of the Heartland unions take the shield the ensuing matches will still be played.

Tasman’s 2022 provincial championship home games

Mako men (Bunnings NPC)

Lansdowne Park, Blenheim

v Southland – Sunday, August 7, 2.05pm

v Canterbury - Friday, August 26, 5.35pm

Trafalgar Park, Nelson

v Wellington – Wednesday, September 7, 7.05pm

v Taranaki – Sunday, September 11, 2.05pm

v Northland – Saturday, September 24, 2.05pm

Quarterfinals are set down for October 7-9, with semi-finals on October 14-15 and the final on October 22.

Mako women (Farah Palmer Cup)

Trafalgar Park, Nelson

v Taranaki – Saturday, July 30, 2.05pm

v Hawke’s Bay – Saturday, August 20, 2.05pm

Lansdowne Park, Blenheim

v North Harbour – Sunday, August 7, 11.35am

Quarterfinals will take place on August 27, semi-finals on September 2-4 with the Farah Palmer Cup final scheduled for early September.

The Tasman Mako 2022 Farah Palmer Cup squad:

Props: Marama Elkington (Marist), Meleane Hala (Waimea Old Boys), Kolotita Lupeituu (Marist), Shayla Tuitupou (Marist), Akita Kees (Kahurangi), Raumati Rogers (Kahurangi). Hookers: Fai Auimatagi (Marist), Meika Newman (Marist). Locks: Tanita Garnett (Kahurangi), Laura Bayfield (Canterbury), Brooklyn Logan (Waimea Old Boys), Shevaun Collier (Marist). Loose forwards: Neve Anglesey (Waimea Old Boys), Sui Pauaraisa vice-captain (Canterbury), Tamara Silcock vice-captain (Marist), Jess Harvie (Waimea Old Boys), Tahlia Brody Marist – International), Emily Kelly (Kahurangi). Halfbacks: Hannah Kelly - Captain (Kahurangi), Keeley Ridley (Waimea Old Boys). Inside backs: Cassie Siataga (Canterbury), Alma Ngametua (Marist), Lesieli Taufa (Moutere), Jamie Paenga (Kahurangi). Outside backs: Klaudia South (Marist), Chloe Dixon (Kahurangi), Michelle Miller-Leef (Marist), Fiaalii Solomona (Moutere), Bethan Manners (Waimea Old Boys).

Wider training squad: Luisa Tafia (Kahurangi), Ashleigh Wood (Kahurangi), Vaiana-Marie Rima (Marist), Rebecca Faapopo (Moutere), Mili Mills (Marist), Katie Silcock (Marist), Ashlee Forsyth (Waimea Old Boys).

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