Friday, 31 March 2017
Exciting premier club season kicks off
Tukapa are the defending champions but it may be New Plymouth Old Boys who have the most to prove when the 2017 CMK Chartered Accountants Taranaki premier club rugby competition kicks off tomorrow.
Old Boys went through last year’s competition unbeaten but came unstuck in the big finale, well beaten 39-17 by Tukapa in a one-sided title decider. Having had to stew on that for the past eight months, NPOB will take the first step to making amends when they travel to Rahotu Domain to begin their season against Coastal.
Old Boys are again expected to be strong and have some impressive young talent across the park. Taranaki under-19 most promising player Sione Mafi will carry the ball aggressively from centre and will be complemented by strong defender and fellow centre Matthew Guthrie. Props Chad Petersen, who is a great scrummager and has a high work rate, and Mitch O’Neill, who has plenty of speed and good ball-carrying ability, are Taranaki Rugby Academy members.
Coastal finished third last season, beaten in the semifinal by eventual champions Tukapa. They are tough at home and will have new Taranaki recruit Logan Crowley back on his home patch at halfback. Crowley starred for the Canterbury under-19 team in 2015 and has also played for the Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup team, so his experience will be invaluable.
Tukapa will also travel for their opening game of the season – heading to Stratford’s Victoria Park to take on Stratford & Eltham, who will play for the first time officially as a combined team. To celebrate the occasion, all Stratford & Eltham teams will play at home and an inter-squad women’s 10s match will kick off the day’s entertainment. Stratford & Eltham finished sixth last year and will be hoping to catch Tukapa still in summer mode. Lock/loose forward Matthew Kissick, who was the Taranaki Development player of the year, will be looked on to provide experience and leadership.
Tukapa, who will celebrate their 125th jubilee on 15 April, have a new head coach in Francis Douglas deputy principal Tim Stuck. Tukapa are heavy with experience, boasting Taranaki captain Mitchell Crosswell, Taranaki lock Leighton Price and backs Isaia ‘Ice’ Tuifua and Jack Cameron. Academy member John Lomu is sharp on his feet and is a solid defender in the midfield. Prop Devron Phillips is a former Northland age-grade player and at 130kg will add plenty of bulk and power to the scrum.
Last year’s other beaten semifinalist, Southern, will head up the road to face Inglewood at the TET Stadium. Southern have added former Chiefs and Taranaki pair Craig Clarke and Shane Cleaver to the coaching team. Trinity Spooner-Neera had a strong season at fullback in 2016 and will again be a player to watch. Southern will have a bit of tall timber in the middle row, with first-year academy member Mikaere Bell measuring 2m. He is a strong ball carrier and a former King Country rep.
Club legend Lyall Bunn joins the coaching ranks at Inglewood, as they look to step up and make the playoffs after finishing fifth last year. Chiefs under-20 loosehead prop Alex Mitchell will hold up one side of the scrum, while Jack White, in his second year at the academy, will offer plenty at openside flanker.
In the other game of the opening round, last year’s two bottom sides – Clifton and Spotswood United – meet at Tikorangi. Kerry Eynon, who played more than 100 games for Taranaki, takes over the head coaching role with Clifton, who will host their popular club day to begin the season. A group of talented young players from the academy are expected to make an impact, in particular Meli Naholo, who is the younger brother of All Blacks and Taranaki wing Waisake Naholo. Meli is also a winger and has great footwork and speed. Chiefs under-20 first five-eighth Matt McKenzie will use his good kicking and passing game to lead Clifton around the field.
Spotswood United had to settle for the wooden spoon last season, but blindside flanker/No 8 Pita Gus Sowakula will do his best to change that. The big Fijian, who is an academy member, was a star of the Taranaki sevens team over summer and has a strong defensive game, is a great ball carrier and is good in the air. Another Fijian, 130kg prop Asaeli Sorovaki, will be a player to watch as he uses his size and strength to fend off opposition defenders.
Taranaki Rugby Football Union rugby operations and logistics co-ordinator Kate Parkinson said the quality and strength of club rugby was vital to the game in Taranaki.
“We have a really competitive and high-quality club rugby scene, which flows on to our rep programmes, so we’re looking forward to another successful club season on and off the field. The game has strong and passionate club members and volunteers and we’re really grateful for their support,” Parkinson said.
For the second year, CMK Chartered Accountants are the partners of the Taranaki premier club competition.
“We thank CMK Chartered Accountants for their fantastic support again. Their investment in CMK Taranaki premier club rugby helps ensure we have a very strong competition,” Taranaki Rugby business development manager Glenn Noble said.