Tupou Leaaemanu [with ball] has been rewarded for a powerful club season. PHOTO/FILE

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Farriers Wairarapa-Bush coach Joe Harwood is using this year’s abbreviated representative season to build for next year’s Heartland Championship.

With the cancellation of the 2020 Heartland Championship because of the covid-19 pandemic, Wai-Bush will play five games – two against Horowhenua-Kapiti, and one each against King Country, Poverty Bay, and Whanganui.

Harwood and assistant coaches Deon van Deventer and Joe Nuku have named a 30-man squad, which includes 14 newcomers.

“We’ve made a point of bringing in a few young boys to get them into that rep environment and give them a good chance to put their hand up to see how they respond,” Harwood said.

“On the other side, we’ve also given an opportunity for a couple of senior boys who haven’t had their best club rugby season by their own standards, but who we know can climb another level when we get them in our environment.

“It’s an opportunity for those guys to lift their games and the opportunity for some young guys to have a crack as well.”

The squad also features several players, who have played a high level of club rugby in other areas and have returned to Wai-Bush for this season.

They include Marist locks Peter and Joe Beech, Eketahuna lock Tom McKay, Marist fullback Tafa Tafa, Marist wing Soli Malatai, and East Coast halfback Cameron Ravenwood.

Harwood said their experience would be invaluable with such a short campaign and a quick turnaround after the club season. Their first game is in 16 days against Horowhenua-Kapiti.

“You can’t over-complicate things. We’ll just stick with stuff that we’ve done in the last year or two and get those guys up to speed as quick as we can and rely on those senior players to help out.”

One area of concern has been the midfield, and Harwood said the campaign was an ideal opportunity to develop strong combinations. He’s giving the Pioneer pairing of Shayne Harmon and Nikora Ewe, and Greytown’s Teihana Brown the chance to impress.

“We identified the midfield as an area where we still need a bit of growth and development, and with Nikora and Shayne they have the ability to play in the midfield and cover wing as well.

They’re both big, solid boys so again we bring them in, work them hard and see how they respond.”

“Teihana played premier rugby in Hawke’s Bay for some years and has been a standout that you need in the midfield, has a good solid head on his shoulders and he’s big unit. He can carry well, and he can also put guys into space.”

If there is a surprise inclusion it is Pioneer loose forward Himiona Haira, and Harwood agreed the selection is out of left field.

“He’s only been in the loose forwards the last couple years, and … we were looking for a bit of X-factor around somebody who can provide a bit of extra punch and create something out there. We see him having the ability to do that,” he said.

Tavita Isaac, on the charge in the semifinal win over Eketahuna, has been named in the Wai-Bush squad after missing 2019. PHOTO/KYLIE EVANS

Greytown captain Tavita Isaac is also a welcome addition to the loose forward ranks after being unavailable in 2019.

The front row has a young but powerful look about it, with Greytown props Lewis Bush, and Chris Hemi, as well as blockbusting Carterton prop Tupoe Leaaemanu, and versatile Marist frontrower Sam Siaosi.

“They’re young, promising footballers, and it’s exciting to have them,” Harwood said.

“Sam has been around the club scene a few years now and has had a good club season. He’s a very physical player and can cover a couple of positions in the front row. He’s a very dominant ball carrier and is very physical on defence.”

Harwood said they were sweating on the availability of Martinborough outside back Tristan Flutey, who picked up a lower leg-ankle injury in the semifinal loss to Marist.

Martinborough’s Logan Flutey was also left out with Harwood waiting on the outcome of the judicial hearing after the loose forward was sent off for putting his boot on the head of a player in the semifinal.

“We’re excited with the squad we’ve put together. It was pleasing when we spoke to all the guys, they were really keen to give it a nudge as well, and it’s all about trying to develop for the future,” Harwood said.