Club rugby kicks off on Saturday

And then there were four.

With Awatere and Moutere joining forces due to a player shortage at both country clubs, just a quartet of Marlborough premier grade teams will contest both the Tasman Trophy and local sub-union rugby competitions in 2021.

The combined outfit will line up alongside Waitohi, Central and Renwick to take on six Nelson clubs in the Tasman-wide competition. They are Marist, Waimea Old Boys, Kahurangi, Wanderers, Nelson and Stoke.

The competition kicks off next Saturday, April 10, with five cross-over games across the top of the south. Moutere/Awatere begin their new partnership with a tough match-up at home against Waimea Old Boys; Renwick are also at home, to Stoke; Waitohi head over the hill to play Marist while Central, the reigning Marlborough champions, are also on the road, meeting Wanderers at Brightwater.

Meet the Marlborough teams

Central

The Blues Brothers went through the Covid-blighted 2020 season undefeated, on their way to claiming the Marlborough sub-union crown.

With there being no Tasman Trophy play last year, Central’s path to the top was considerably smoother than it is expected to be in 2021, although they will field a side capable of giving both the Tasman-wide and local competitions a good shake.

Up front, they will again field most of the pack that paved the way for their 2020 championship victory.

Evergreen hooker/loose forward Jesse MacDonald is expected to be joined by his older brother, Quentin, during the season. Quentin has been involved in the Highlanders’ wider training squad but has signed up for another season with the Mako and should be back in blue at some stage.

Props Tino Vakaloa, Lockie McCormick and Dusty Foley will provide a solid base up front, while loosies Matt McCormick, Crusaders under-20 prospect Setaleki Baker, 2020 Mako opensider Braden Stewart and the hard-working Jone Lasaganibau will form an integral part of the fast-paced game the Blues favour playing.

Halfback Ethan Jones was a big improver last year, while Liam Duncan, Nigel Satherley, Mitch Smith and Jake Cresswell offer attacking impetus wider out. However, the man to watch in the Blues’ backline will be centre/wing Timoci “Jim” Tavatavanawai, who is firmly on both the Mako and Crusaders’ radar.

Newcomers to the Central ranks are lock Jack Powell from Christchurch and midfielder Jack Griffiths, who has been playing abroad.

The Central club will field a men’s division two side, hoping to extend that team’s winning unbeaten record to three consecutive seasons.

There will be no Central women’s side this season.

Waitohi

The return of an experienced, high-achieving core of premier players sees the Waitohi club enter the 2021 club rugby season in a positive frame of mind.

Last season, Waitohi reached the grand final of the Marlborough competition, bowing to the unbeaten Central crew, but this year they will be keen to go one better, as well as remaining highly-competitive in the Tasman Trophy cross-over matches.

Waitohi fullback Gannon Karena dives in for a try. Photo Peter Jones

Hard-nosed forwards such as Manu Mataele, Luke Bergman, Taimi Fangitua, Dylan Burns, Taine Cragg-Love and Andre Hebberd will lead the way up front. Livewire loosie Cragg-Love was one of the club’s standouts last season and must be pushing soon for higher honours. Fangitua plays in a variety of positions up front and is a key member of the Tohis’ pack, along with the evergreen player/coach Jimmy Giles.

Behind the scrum there is some serious talent. Halfback Karlos Tautari is getting better each season, while utility Corey Bovey’s game guidance and goalkicking is vital. Dylan McManaway, Tiare Tautari, Gannon Karena, Saka, Ritchie and Sione Kuivalu and Vance Pook are players worth watching, all who will have benefitted from previous premier experience. Mako utility Tim O'Malley has spent time in the Crusaders’ camp but is expected to play regularly for the Tohis.

Five newcomers will enable the coaches to operate with more depth this year. Outstanding MBC No 8 Viliami Napa'a joins Veuki Taumoefolau, former Moutere utility back Dan Monaghan, Ethan Kahui and Osea Tarogi as fresh faces at the Picton-based club.

Waitohi also welcome back three players who have had a few years away back to Endeavour Park - namely utility back Hayden Woolley, plus prop Chris Goodyer and lock/loosie Michael Tuipulotu Leger-Kula.

Waitohi also propose to field a competitive division two team or under- 19 side, plus junior sides from under-6 to under-13/14.

Renwick

Despite being regular play-off contenders since 2017, and inaugural winners of the John Goodman Trophy in 2018, the Green Machine has not clinched a Tasman Trophy or Marlborough Sub-Union title.

While Renwick have lost a few players from last season’s squad, new head coach Ti’i Paulo has been able to name a talented, seasoned squad more than capable of shaking up both competitions.

Prop George Tuineau scores for the Green Machine. Photo Peter Jones

They have size and strength up front through props Quinn Harrison Jones, George Tuineau and Ty Bampton, plus hookers Sione Lonitenisi and Hamish Stevenson, who are joined by newcomers Sailosi Fusi Malimali, ex-Waitohi, and former Carterton prop Vincent Liardet-Smith.

A major gain in the lock/loosie region is former Nelson club player Isaiah Miller. The powerful ball carrier, who has represented the Tasman Mako in the Mitre 10 Cup, will be looking to relaunch his bid for higher honours at the club he played for through the junior grades.

Other newcomers in the forward pack are flanker Enoka Love, and lock/loosie Damon Lovell, from the Waihora club.

They will join forces with regulars Cody Weir, Naisa Taufa, Daniel Jones, Kurt Schollum, Sky Boskett-Barnes and livewire brothers Jaydn and Josh Holdaway.

Behind the pack, Jayden Lister and Scotsman Ruairidh Swan are quality number nines, while Alex Barnsley, Michael Dillon, Kyle Marfell, Falaula Fotu Moala, Zac Harrison Jones and newcomer Hanro Botha, a winger/fullback from Auckland’s Pakuranga club, offer variety and strike power further out.

Renwick plan to field a division two team plus a turnout of junior sides, from under-6 to under-13.

Awatere/Moutere

It will be a challenging season for the Seddon-based Awatere club and their Moutere counterparts, centred at Spring Creek.

The decision to join forces at the top level for the 2021 season has taken the pressure off both clubs, who were struggling to gather enough numbers to field a competitive unit.

Clyde Paewai on the burst for the combined Moutere/Awatere side during a pre-season match against Glenmark. Photo Shuttersport.

The new team will be known as either Awatere/Moutere or Moutere/Awatere, with home fixtures shared between both home grounds. The team’s colours on those days will be appropriate to the venue they are playing at. Away fixtures will see the side wearing alternate strips.

They will play in both the Tasman Trophy and Marlborough sub-union competitions as a combined entity.

Awatere/Moutere will be coached by mentors from both clubs. Kaleni Taetuli will handle the head coach’s role alongside last season’s assistant JP Koen, plus Laurie McGlone and Baxter Wilson from the Magpies staff.

The team had only three practices together before travelling to Murchison for a warm-up encounter against North Canterbury club Glenmark on March 27 which produced some promising signs.

With the Tussocks having a core of resilient, gnarly forwards and Moutere able to produce some exciting, skilful backs the new amalgamation is expected to take shape quickly.

Both clubs are expected to field a division two team and all of their normal JAB contingent. A Moutere women's side will again contest the Tasman senior competition.

This group of Awatere junior players limber up prior to a match in Seddon. Photo Kev and Tarn's Photography.

Junior rugby

Marlborough’s up-and-coming players will have a chance to show their burgeoning skills when their competitions kick off across the Tasman region on May 8.

Opportunities are available for young players from the always entertaining under-six grade to under-13, then on to the various age grade competitions.

Marlborough’s clubs will each field a variety of teams through the grades depending on numbers and coaching availability. Although Moutere and Awatere have combined to contest the premier grade, they will both put teams on the paddock in the junior section under their individual club banners.

Last season 45 teams from Marlborough clubs turned out each Saturday across the various grades.

The 2021 premier squads

Cairns Electrical Central:

Jesse MacDonald, Quentin MacDonald, Tino Vakaloa, Ollie Lawson, Lockie McCormick, Matt McCormick, Jesse Eising, Setaleki Baker, Braden Stewart, Dusty Foley, Jone Lasaganibau, Ethan Jones, Nigel Satherley, Glen Smith, Jake Cresswell, Jack Powell, Jack Griffiths, Florent Reniaud, Mitch Smith, Liam Duncan, Gareth Smith, Timoci Tavatavanawai. Coaches: Dave McCormick, Riki Winitana. Manager Kerry Maxwell.

Crafar Crouch Waitohi

: Manu Mataele, Luke Bergman, Taimi Fangitua, Dylan Burns, Taine Cragg-Love, Sean Walsh, Jimmy Giles, Andre Hebberd, Karlos Tautari, Corey Bovey, Dylan McManaway, Tiare Tautari, Gannon Karena, Saka, Ritchie and Sione Kuivalu, Vance Pook, Tim O'Malley, Viliami Napa'a, Veuki Taumoefolau, Dan Monaghan, Ethan Kahui, Osea Tarogi, Hayden Woolley, Chris Goodyer, Micheal Tuipulotu Leger-Kula. Coaches: Jimmy Giles, Ra Hebberd, Stefan Roguski. Manager: Diane Ivamy.

Peter Ray Homes Renwick

: Hamish Stevenson, Sione Lonitenisi, Quinn Harrison Jones, George Tuineau, Sailosi Fusi Malimali, Ty Bampton, Vincent Liardet-Smith, Jaydn Holdaway, Daniel Jones, Josh Holdaway, Cody Weir, Damon Lovell, Noah Gosling, Isaiah Miller, Enoka Love, Kurt Schollum, Atunaisa Taufa, Sky Boskett-Barnes; Jayden Lister, Ruairidh Swan, Alex Barnsley, Kyle Marfell, Michael Dillon, Falaula Fotu Moala, Zac Harrison Jones, Hanro Botha. Coaches: Ti’i Paulo, Cory Holdaway, Zac Harrison-Jones. Managers: Richard Harris and Bruce Baldwin.

Awatere/Moutere (to be confirmed)