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Lack of depth concerns

Dwindling numbers of players appear to be the underlying issue for some clubs heading into the start of the Wairarapa-Bush premier club rugby season. Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE looks at the prospects of all eight teams, starting today with the four ‘North’ section teams in the Lane Penn Trophy.

In a format change, the Lane Penn Trophy will be played in North and South groups rather than the Town and Country groups used in the first two years of the competition. There is also a change for the final.

Instead of the final being played when the top teams from each section are scheduled to meet in the premier championship round-robin, the decider will be played as a standalone final at Trust House Memorial Park on May 6.

Defending champions East Coast, Eketahuna, Marist, and Pioneer comprise the North section, and Carterton, Gladstone, Greytown, and Martinborough the South.

East Coast

“Bloody terrible, really!”

That’s how new coach Ritchie Robertson described the dearth of players turning out at Whareama.

The former Wairarapa-Bush coach, who guided the club to championship glory in 2008, has returned to the role along with club stalwart Guy Williams, and the pair have inherited a team that bears little semblance of the one that beat Carterton 17-15 in the 2022 Lane Penn Trophy final.

Robertson reckons 15 players who fronted for the premier side last year are unavailable. They include former professional Tom Broughton, Cam Ravenwood, Terry Norman, Cam Butler, Fynn Ellmers, Joseph Robertson, Bryan Arnold, Josh Graham, and Sam Barber. The only gain is Caleb Higgs, a halfback from Hawke’s Bay; however, he is out for two or three weeks with cracked ribs suffered in a friendly.

Promising hooker George Parke, prop Josh Prentice, exciting utility back Epeli Rayaqayaqa, and talented first-five Jack Wakeling will be key players for the Coasties in what could be a challenging season.

“We have to treat the start of the season as our friendly games,” Robertson said.

“We have no ambitions at the moment, but just get through this first round and see how we go.”


Third-year coach Craig Pepperell expects another tough season for last year’s wooden spooners.

The province’s northernmost club struggled through the 2022 season, failing to win a game. A lack of depth meant Pepperell rarely had a full squad at his disposal. and the same looks likely again this season.

Adding to Eke’s woes is the loss of tough-as-teak looseforward and former Netherlands international Johan van Vliet and experienced midfield back Robbie Anderson, who is probably out for the season with a serious shoulder injury.

A lot will rest on the shoulders of the versatile Sam Gammie, who can play anywhere in the forward pack, but overall Pepperell said they haven’t really been able to attract any significant players, and there isn’t a lot of depth.

He said the aims are to keep building and to enjoy the season.


To go one better is the aim for last year’s beaten Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Trophy finalists Marist.

The Green and Whites have a new head coach in Joe Nuku Tamakehu, with former Gerald Lologa as his assistant.

They have kept most of last year’s squad together but will be without lock Peter Beech [retired], while representative captain James Goodger will miss the early rounds because of training for the Rotorua marathon.

There are some significant gains in utility back Tafa Tafa, who returns to the club after playing for Upper Hutt Rams, versatile front-rowers Iowane Koroitukana from Kaiapoi and Iverson Savaliga from Masterton Red Star, lock Waisale Tubu from Carterton, former Wairarapa College loose forwards Rhemus Hullet and Fletcher Carrig, and hard running midfield back Nua Lualua from Gladstone.

Manager Mark Brown said the depth of the squad is sound, with 27 registered players to kick off the season.


Like Marist, Pioneer appears to have better depth than some other squads, with most of the 2022 team returning with only a few missing due to long-term injuries sustained in the 2022 season.

The main acquisitions are utility backs Zinny Harmon from last season’s Waicol 1st XV and Greg Te Kura from Upper Hutt Rams.

Coach Victor Thompson said Pioneer had a good buildup in the preseason with three games with at least 25 players at each game.

A top-four finish is the goal for Thompson, and he believes that is achievable with the club having a strong senior reserve squad this season to fall back on if and when needed.

He said having that depth will be vital if Pioneer are to be serious challengers at the end of the season.

Eketahuna vs East Coast, Eketahuna 2.35pm [Pete Semmens]; Marist vs Pioneer, Memorial Park No. 2, 2.35pm [Chris Jefferies].

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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