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Club XV of the Year

It’s that time of the season, with only the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup final to play to determine premier supremacy to name my ‘Premier Club Team of the Year’.

There is nothing scientific or overly technical in these selections, and they are simply my observations from teams I have seen in action. So on that basis, there are no Eketāhuna or Gladstone players considered, as those are the only two teams I haven’t seen play this season [maybe that had something to do with me being away for three weekends or their losing form].

I have also selected players based on the positions that I have seen them playing in club rugby and not where they are likely to take the field [should they be selected] for the Wairarapa-Bush Heartland squad.

For the sake of creating some debate and getting you thinking about your own choices, here are mine.

Fullback

A three-way race for me between Carterton’s Ben Brooking, Pioneer’s Reece Calkin, and Gracyn Evans from Greytown. Carterton flyer Aseri ‘Ace’ Waqa would normally come into calculations but has been operating at centre.

Brooking, who had times looked shaky at first-five for Wai-Bush last season, has made a good fist of the custodian role and is [apart from the game against Gladstone where he played in “borrowed” boots] a reliable goalkicker. Calkin is equally adept at first five, but the no.15 jersey suited his counterattacking abilities. Evans has been outstanding for Greytown in their late charge to the final, is a solid defender and a powerful runner with deceptive pace, and that’s good enough to fit into my starting XV.

Wingers

Two stand out for me – Martinborough’s Nathan Hunt and Marist’s Hayden Cooper – and they get my nod. At 34, Hunt is in the veteran class, but the former NZ Heartland XV representative has lost none of his speed and ability to find the try line, while Cooper established himself in his second year out of college as a big powerful elusive runner with a nose for scoring tries, as well as being a more than useful goalkicker.

Martinborough duo, 17-year-old flyer Conall Doyle, whose season was cut short with injury, and the lightning-quick Shane Colton also came into consideration.

Centre

The experienced Tafa Tafa, in my mind, was playing out of position at 13 and didn’t get enough ball to control the game, was arguably Marist’s best back and would have been better suited one or two places inside. Veteran Nick Olson showed the value of the experience of playing in and winning numerous finals in Greytown’s resurgence, and big powerful Nikora Ewe was Pioneer’s best attacker. My selection, though, is Waqa – the province’s most devastating runner no matter where he starts, and even the more cluttered midfield did not harness his attacking threat.

Second-five

Fiula Tameilau is normally on the wing for Carterton but has been a nuisance since moving into the No. 12 jersey. Former NZ Warrior Keanu Dawson has been hard to contain with his typical league style full steam ahead, and Oakland Dean-Pene had his moments for Pioneer.

My desire to have a big ball-runner sways it towards Dawson but with no real conviction.

First-five

A real area of concern with a decided lack of depth. Former Super Rugby player Robbie Robinson has shown his value in the pivot role for Martinborough, and Pioneer’s Zinny Harmon’s season was cut short by injury, but he showed enough to suggest he has a good future. My pick, though, is East Coast’s Jack Wakeling, an astute kicker and reader of the game and a talented runner with tricky footwork.

Halfback

Another position with a lack of depth. Greytown’s Sam Walton-Sexton gets my nod. Quick to spot a gap and with an eye for the try line, Walton-Sexton edges out Carterton captain Daryl Pickering.

No. 8

A few good candidates, with Marist’s Marcus Ale, Logan Flutey from Martinborough, the evergreen Tana Isaac from Greytown, and Pioneer’s Jonte Miller all worthy of consideration.

Ale, however, stands out for his consistency and solid contribution across the field. He rarely misses a tackle and invariably gets over the gain line with the ball in hand. A close second is Isaac, who continues to defy his 42 years.

Openside flanker

Himiona Haira continually stands out for Pioneer with his strong running and his ability at creating turnovers. Likewise, Martinborough fetcher Jared Hawkins, a mere 37 years old, and 34-year-old Wai-Bush centurion Inia Katia, the mercurial Fijian who has been an absolute nuisance since moving from the backline, forcing numerous turnovers and creating gaps out of nothing with his darts around the edges.

A hard choice, but Hawkins gets the start with Katia providing impact off the bench, where he can also cover halfback.

Blindside flanker

This is a no-brainer for me, with Jake Goodger a clear standout. His departure for the UK just a couple of weeks out from the end of the round-robin was clearly felt by Martinborough, who slipped out of semifinal contention. Although a hard runner and solid defender, Goodger, most importantly, is an intelligent player and a superb leader.

Greytown’s Rihi Brown is an underrated player who would have strong claims, while Carterton’s Isireli Biumaiwai has stood out in recent games for the defending champions.

Locks

The middle row is a big area of concern because there is a decided lack of size, so I have gone for the Carterton pair, who had massive games in the semifinal win over Pioneer – Logan Wakefield and Malakai Biumaiwai. Nothing else to add here.

Props

A fit, trimmed-down Lewis Bush has been a revelation for Greytown since his return from Hawke’s Bay. A solid scrummager, it is at the breakdown and in the open where Bush is most effective, operating more like an extra loose forward. Carterton’s Tupou Lea’aemanu has similar traits, and that is good enough for me to select the pair.

Marist’s Stan Wright Jnr and Sam Siaosi set a solid platform at scrum time and generally carry over the gain line, although Wright’s discipline has let him down with at least two yellow cards at vital times during games. Ihe Namana from Pioneer and Ty Waight from Martinborough are others on the fringes.

Hooker

Another position where there is a serious dearth of talent. For me, it comes to two – East Coast youngster George Parke, and Carterton’s Cook Island international Terongo Tekii, with the latter getting the nod, because of his experience.

As mentioned, Eketāhuna and Gladstone players weren’t considered because I haven’t seen them, but undoubtedly the likes of Sam Gammie, BJ Campbell and Robbie Anderson from Eketāhuna, and Harry Eschenbach from Gladdy would come into serious consideration.

Food for thought?

Coggie’s premier club team

Gracyn Evans, Nathan Hunt, Hayden Cooper, Aseri Waqa, Keanu Dawson, Jack Wakeling, Sam Walton-Sexton, Marcus Ale, Jared Hawkins, Jake Goodger, Logan Wakefield, Malakai Biumaiwai, Lewis Bush, Terongo Tekii, Tupou Lea’aemanu

Impact

George Parke, Stan Wright Jnr, Sam Siaosi, Rihi Brown, Inia Katia, Ben Brooking, Fiula Tameilau, Tafa Tafa

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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