By Jake Beleski
New captain. New players. New team.
There will be a distinct Tasman flavour to the new-look Wairarapa United side aiming to usher in a new era for the club in their first-round Central League clash with Miramar Rangers today.
The full squad have only had two trainings together, but captain Sam Mason-Smith said they would be ready to go.
“The squad have been training now for several weeks, but we haven’t quite had all the players come in until recently.
“Myself and Cory (Chettleburgh) have been involved with the national league, but we’ve been keeping fit and we’re looking forward to getting out there and getting things going.”
United’s four “imports” from Tasman United only arrived this week, and all have been named in the starting line-up.
Goalkeeper Coey Turipa, defenders Daniel Allan and Cameron Lindsay, and midfielder Alex Ridsdale have all been playing with Paul Ifill in Tasman’s Stirling Sports Premiership side.
“He’s brought the boys from Tasman United along with him,” Mason-Smith said.
“They’ve all got a lot of ability, and I’m looking forward to them playing this weekend and gelling throughout the season.”
Ifill served as a player-coach for Wairarapa United over the last two seasons, but would be solely focussed on the playing side of it this year.
He was a key player for United and they would be looking to make the most of his experience, Mason-Smith said.
“He’s a great bloke and adds a lot of quality and personal experience.”
Mason-Smith said he was “delighted” coach Phil Keinzley had selected him to lead the side, but was adamant it would not change his approach.
“I don’t think it will change much for me personally.
“I just want to go out and do what I can for the team . . . it’s just the captain’s armband that will change.”
United finished seventh last year, and were keen to turn their fortunes around this season.
“Before any campaign starts you want to say you can win the league,” he said.
“You want to be in the title race . . . I’d like to think we can be at the top end of the table come the end of the season.”
Ifill was another who said the squad’s less than ideal preparations would not hinder their performances.
“Things are a little bit different but we’ve put in the hard yards and we all should know what we’re doing anyway.
“We’ve got a few new players and we’ve only trained twice together but the new boys have been playing together with Tasman and that should help.”
Staying fit was his primary personal goal for the season, and he hoped to “chip in with some goals”.
There was no reason the team couldn’t set themselves lofty goals to work towards, he said.
“I think we’re capable of giving the league a decent shake-up.
“If we get a good draw in the Chatham Cup, there’s no reason we can’t have a crack at that as well.”
Wairarapa United’s women’s team also open their Central League campaign in Masterton tomorrow against Seatoun AFC.
Coach Kim Nye said they understood it would be a challenging step up from the lower grades they had dominated in recent seasons.
“There’s a bit of the unknown.
“The girls are obviously going to be quite nervous about it but hopefully they’re up to the challenge.”
The team has assembled a good mix of younger players and players with experience, and Nye said they were “as prepared as they could possibly be”.
“Like I say to them all the time, great individuals don’t make a great team.
“We’ve got to use our skills and knowledge to the best advantage for our team.”
The women’s match kicks off at 3.15pm at Memorial Turf, followed by the men at 5.30pm.