Martinborough’s Tristan Flutey has been a standout player this season. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

RUGBY

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

With the Heartland Championship starting this weekend hopes will be high that Wairarapa-Bush can improve on last year’s disappointing 11th-place finish.

The team tasked with getting them off to a flying start against Poverty Bay in Gisborne will be announced later this week, but for now I have taken a light-hearted look at what team I would have picked, based on form in this year’s premier club competition.

This is based purely on what I saw from players when they took the field for their clubs this season. It does not take into account a player’s reputation and experience, or the pre-season matches for
Wairarapa-Bush.

Loan players and players of origin were not in the running, making for quite a different-looking team than the one that will eventually take the field this week.

It also does not take into account the unavailability of players through injury or for other reasons.

There was some bias due to the fact I saw some teams play more than others, but ultimately this is the group of players I settled on to do the job.

FRONT ROW

Jaden Mason, James Pakoti, Connor Baker

The most difficult selections in this team. Not because of a lack of talented players, but because of my own lack of knowledge on the dark areas of front row play. These three were top performers whenever I saw them in action. The three players would provide a solid foundation to work with.

LOCKS

Lachie McFadzean, James Goodger

Both dynamic in the air and lead from the front in their play around the field – I would love to have these two in my team any day of the week. McFadzean is an inspirational leader and took his Carterton side to the Tui Cup final. Goodger’s all-round skills make him an asset to any team.

LOOSE FORWARDS

Chris Raymond, Eddie Cranston, Jack Loader

Raymond was last year’s club player of the year and is always a threat when he plays for Martinborough. Cranston’s versatility makes him a valuable addition and last year’s Wairarapa-Bush captain got better and better as the club season progressed. Loader was the standout player in a Red Star team that failed to win a game but showed his class in a losing side on countless occasions.

INSIDE BACKS

Inia Katia, Tim Priest

Katia would be the first name on my team sheet after a dazzling run of performances for Gladstone this season.

His sniping running game is second-to-none, and his service is always top quality. Priest can always be counted on to put in a solid performance and is the sort of player you can build a backline around. Tipene Haira has performed well at first-five for Wairarapa-Bush in the past few weeks, but hardly played there during the club season.

MIDFIELD

Cyrus Baker, Robbie Anderson

The Wairarapa-Bush captain was a strong performer in a Greytown side that fell just short of reaching the Tui Cup final. A willing carrier with more than a touch of skill, he will be missed while on the sidelines with an Achilles injury. Anderson was a standout performer in an Eketahuna team that never got going and plays with an aggression and intensity that is needed at Heartland level.

BACK THREE

Tristan Flutey, Nikora Ewe, Nick Mason

Flutey has made giant strides for Martinborough this year, and I had to find a spot in the team for Nikora Ewe. Ewe was in fine try-scoring form for Martinborough and adds bulk and pace to the outside backs. Mason was a revelation on the club scene this year, and a large part of the reason why Carterton made it to the final against Gladstone.