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South teams make key signings

Today, Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE looks at the prospects of the ‘South’ teams in the Lane Penn Trophy rugby competition.


The 2022 Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup champions have made significant gains, with Ben Brooking from Wellington the main acquisition for new coach Garth Thomson.

The utility back made two appearances for Wairarapa-Bush in the 2022 Heartland Championship and will bring experience and good communication to the backline. He is expected to play a key leadership role along with captain Daryl Pickering and veteran utility back Inia Katia, which will be vital with 10 or 11 players from last season having retired or overseas.

Thomson said three or four young players not long out of school, including a Scottish prop, have joined the ‘Maroons’ to offset the loss of those experienced players.

“Numbers are still on the light side, but the numbers we do have are quality players,” Thomson said.

“Our main aim is to give the boys a good experience on and off the field, building numbers up and working closely with our reserve team after not having one last season.

“The club is focused on building a great culture for all players and not just focusing on one team.”


Two Japanese players who have played premier club rugby in Auckland are the big signings for Gladstone.

Prop/hooker Koki Tokuda and the versatile Yusuke Kanake, who can play halfback, wing, or fullback, will bring some Japanese flair to the perennial championship contenders.

Despite their acquisition, assistant coach Charlie Bargh felt the losses outweigh the gains, with the abrasive Eddie Cranston [surgery] and lock Will Porritt [returned to the South Island] leaving the biggest hole.

Making it harder for ‘Gladdy’, several players, including talented backs Freddie and Harry Eschenbach, are away for tomorrow’s opener against Martinborough at Gladstone.

However, Bargh believes the team should be right for a competitive campaign.

“Our aim is to go one better than last year and get to the final and just to be a bit more consistent with our performances,” Bargh said.

“I think last year some games we played unreal, and we thought this is going well, and then we just didn’t pull together, so we’re working on that consistency, really.”

Gladstone will also benefit from having a strong senior reserve team to call on when struggling for numbers.


Former NZ Secondary School international and Wairarapa Bush midfielder Cyrus Baker is the big gain for a Greytown club desperate to reverse a disappointing 2022 season, where the team failed to make the championship semifinals for the first time since 2011.

Promising hooker-flanker Riley Walton-Sexton, brother of halfback Sam, is also
a recruit from Hawke’sBay.

New head coach Kerin Herlihy can call on a mix of youthful firepower from Gracyn Evans, Rongo and Joseph Te Naihi and experienced veterans such as former Tongan international prop Tolu Fahamokioa and veteran utility back Nick Olson.

The premier side will also benefit from having a full senior reserves team to call on when struggling for numbers.

Herlihy’s ambitions for the season are simply for the players to come together as a team and hopefully improve on last year’s disappointing season.


Former Chiefs and Highlanders utility back Robbie Robinson brings a touch of class and experience to Martinborough.

Although in the twilight of his career, the 33-year-old first-five or fullback will add skill and game management to a backline known for throwing the ball around.

The gain is offset somewhat, though, by the loss of exciting outside back Tristan Flutey, who is playing in Australia.

Coach James Bruce has also acquired talented younger players in prop Tom Woelders, loose forward Sam Twigley and midfield back-wing Michael Buick,

Although there is a lot of youth in the squad, Bruce said there was plenty of “ticker”, the players were willing to learn, and there was good depth.

Carterton vs Greytown, Carterton, 2.35pm [Alistair Payne]; Gladstone vs Martinborough, Gladstone, 2.35pm [Kaleb Rowlands]

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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