Soli Malatai, promising newcomer in Wairarapa-Bush Heartland squad. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
By Gary Caffell
Wairarapa-Bush head coach Joe Harwood is excited at the amount of young talent included in the 30-man squad selected to prepare for the 2017 Heartland rugby championship.
The number of players who are bidding to represent the combined unions at this level for the very first time stretches well into double figures and Harwood sees that as a positive sign for the future of the sport here.
“Basicially we’ve gone for the best players regardless of age or experience, form has been the main criteria,” Harwood said ,adding that some places were stll being discussed virtually right up until the eleventh
“It wasn’t an easy process, there are a few who are very unlucky to have missed out but nothing is ever final, they can still force their way in.”.
The decision of former All Black halfback Piri Weepu to make himself available for Wairarapa-Bush was welcomed by Harwood who said his leadership skills would be invaluable.
“We’d expect to him to be very influential, both on and off the field.
“He’s a top player and a good guy with it, I think he will add a lot to our team.”
Harwood is also happy to have Sam Monaghan back from overseas and expects last season’s national Heartland utility back to be a serious contender for the No 10 berth along with another former national Heartland player in Tim Priest and Brad Griffith, the promising Gladstone teen who was part of the Wairarapa College first XV last season.
“We know how good Sam and Tim can be and Brad has been really outstanding for Gladstone and deserves to be there, he’s the sort of guy we want to develop with an eye to the future.”
That latter sentiment could also be applied to Griffith’s Gladstone teammate Matt McCrae, Martinborough’s James Warren, Greytown’s Chaz Matthews, Marist duo Ryan Hargood and Soli Malatai and Pioneer’s Reece Calkin.
McCrae is an outside back with a good mix of pace and strength, Warren a lock whose lineout skills are matched by his mobility about the paddock, Matthews a flanker with a confrontational approach, Hargood a prop or hooker whose ball running skills have often captured attention on the club scene, Malatai a winger who has pace to burn and the nifty footwork to go with it and Calkin a halfback whose switch there from being an outsider back has been seamless.
Just how many of them become regulars in the Heartland side will be a matter of big interest as the season progresses.
There will be just two lead-up matches for Wairarapa-Bush before they commence their Heartland championship campaign against Wanganui at Cooks Gardens on Saturday, August 26.
These will be against Poverty Bay in Gisborne on August 12 and then under lights at Memorial Park against a Manawatu development squad on August 19.
Props: Nick Hohepa (Greytown), Jacko Hull (Carterton), Mike Kawana (Pioneer) Sam Tufuga (Manawatu).
Hookers: James Pakoti (Martinborough), Ryan Hargood (Marist), one to be added.
Locks: Lachie McFadzean (Carterton), Andrew McLean (Gladstone), James Warren (Martinborough).
Loose forwards: James Goodger ( Marist), Eddie Cranston (Gladstone), Tavita isaac (Greytown), Chaz Matthews (Greytown), Chris Raymond (Martinborough), BJ Campbell (Eketahuna).
Halfbacks: Piri Weepu (import), Reece Calkin (Pioneer).
First-fives: Sam Monaghan (Eketahuna), Tim Priest (Martinborough), Brad Griffith (Gladstone).
Midfielders: Armyn Sanders (Martinborough), Leo Eneliko (Marist), Robbie Anderson (Eketahuna), Cyrus Baker (Manawatu).
Outside backs: Matt McCrae (Gladstone), Nick Olson (Greytown), Nikora Ewe ( Pioneer), Soli Malatai (Marist), Inia Katia (Gladstone).