Prop Tupou Leaaemanu [with ball] … brings impact off the bench. PHOTOS/FILE
Farriers Wairarapa-Bush coach Joe Harwood has one eye on the future with the team to play Horowhenua-Kapiti for the PGG Wrightson Cup in Levin today.
The game is the first of five games in a shortened representative season because of the cancellation of the Heartland Championship due to covid-19.
Wai-Bush will also play King Country for a new Lochore-Meads Memorial Trophy, Poverty Bay for the Jeremy David Memorial Cup, and Whanganui and Horowhenua-Kapiti for the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup.
The Heartland unions involved have committed to using only players who played in their club competitions, and Harwood sees that as an opportunity for players to put their hands up for
“We haven’t sat down and gone over individual goals. We’re just taking it one week at a time at the moment,” he said.
“But our focus has been very much on developing some of these young guys for 2021 knowing it’s the 50th anniversary of the amalgamation of Wairarapa and Bush, and knowing that we’ve still got a job to do with the individual cups this season.”
Eight out of the 22 players in the Wai-Bush team for today will make their debut, with five of those in the starting line-up.
“For us this is very much as looking at it as a trial for the next four games ahead,” Harwood said.
“We’ve had minimal preparation time, so it’s chance to give those guys a run.We hope they all put their hands up and make it really hard for us to nail that squad back down to 22 for next week.”
Harwood didn’t expect any surprises from Horowhenua-Kapiti, who traditionally front with a big, powerful forward pack. He aimed to counter the home side’s setpiece-dominated game with pace.
“We know they’re big boys who carry really hard to the line, and they rely on that. They run a big dominant setpiece, particularly their scrum, so we’ve just got to knuckle down and work really hard on getting into position and playing with some front-foot ball and speeding up the ruck.”
“Playing at pace has been our strength in the last couple of years, getting our smaller guys involved and hitting those wide spaces and then slowly exploiting some tired defenders around the middle of the ruck once we come back in.
“The only way to do that is to get that setpiece right and just be patient with ball in hand with six-plus phases and then you see those gaps open up.”
One of the strengths of Wai-Bush in 2019 was depth on the bench, and Harwood has again looked for maximum impact from his substitutes, who include three frontrowers — props Tupou Leaaemanun and Lewis Bush, and hooker Ternogo Tekii — instead of the usual two.
“You look at the likes of Tupou coming on and Bushy, who has had an outstanding club season and will come on at tighthead, and new guys into the team such as Himiona [Haira], who has only converted to flanker in the past three years and I just think he brings a bit of x-factor. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do at that level.”Harwood said the unavailability of outside backs Tristan Flutey and Nathan Hunt, and utility back Raniera Petersen due to injury has opened doors for others to shine particularly Pioneer’s Shayne Harmon, who starts on the wing.
“We know Shayne can play in a few positions and he’s trained hard, so we just looking for him to be dominant with ball in hand and busy out on the wing and get involved, and that midfield combination of Teihana [Brown] and Nikora [Ewe], I’m quite excited to see how that goes too.
“I’m excited just to get this group out on the paddock. Some haven’t played footy for three weeks and really, it’s an opportunity to get the guys together and getting some momentum is really important early on,” Harwood said.
Today’s game at Levin Domain also doubles as a testimonial for former Hurricane Sam Doyle who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in May.