Nikora Ewe [with ball] returns after missing 2019. PHOTOS/FILE
Only six players who took the field in last year’s Meads Cup semifinal against North Otago will line up for Farriers Wairarapa-Bush in their season opener against Horowhenua-Kapiti on Saturday.
Eight debutants, including five in the starting XV, have been named in the new-look side, which also features three players who missed the 2019 season and two others who return after six years.
Captain and No 8 Kirk Tufuga, former Dutch international openside flanker Johan van Vliet, and prop Max Tufuga are the only starters from the forward pack in last year’s semifinal. Hooker James Pakoti came off the bench.
The backline has an almost entirely new look, with first-five Tipene Haira, who was a substitute in the semifinal loss, the only back to get a start, although utility back Inia Katia has been named on the bench.
Lock Joe Beech and centre Teihana Brown make their first appearance for the province since 2014, while midfield back Nikora Ewe, scintillating winger Soli Malatai, and experienced loose forward Tavita Isaac return after missing 2019.
Barnstorming prop Chris Hemi makes his debut after a powerful club season with Greytown and packs down in the scrum with experienced frontrowers Max Tufuga and Pakoti, while Marist captain Peter Beech debuts alongside brother Joe in the engine room.
Former Christchurch premier grade halfback Cameron Ravenwood is rewarded for a consistent season with East Coast, powerful Pioneer back Shayne Harmon makes his debut on the wing, and Marist’s Tafa Tafa gets his first start at fullback.
Another debutant, Carterton prop Tupou Leaaemanu has the skills and power to make an impact when introduced. Fellow frontrowers, Greytown prop Lewis Bush and Carterton’s Terongo Tekii, played one game each for Wai-Bush in 2019, and have been named on a powerful looking bench.
Pioneer’s Himiona Haira only moved from the backs into the loose forwards in 2019 and brings versatility off the bench.
Eketahuna’s Nick Birchfield provides the cover at first-five.
Injuries have restricted coach Joe Harwood’s options, particularly in the backline where outside backs Tristan Flutey [ankle], Nathan Hunt [hand], and utility back Raniera Petersen [shoulder] were ruled out.
Saturday’s outing is a testimonial game for former Hurricane Sam Doyle, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in May.
Originally scheduled to be played at Otaki, the game has been moved to the Levin Domain, and because of the covid-19 level two restrictions, there will be no spectators.
Tafa Tafa, Shayne Harmon, Teihana Brown, Nikora Ewe, Soli Malatai, Tipene Haira, Cameron Ravenwood, Kirk Tufuga [captain], Johan van Vliet, Joe Tako, Peter Beech, Joe Beech, Max Tufuga, James Pakoti, Chris Hemi.
Reserves: Terongo Tekii, Lewis Bush, Tupou Leaaemanu, Tavita Isaac, Himiona Haira, Nick Birchfield, Inia Katia.
Unavailable for selection: Sam Gammie, Tom McKay, Tristan Flutey, Logan Flutey, Nathan Hunt, Raniera Petersen.