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Long, hard season in store

Brock Price . . . Back for Carterton after a season of club rugby in England. PHOTOS/FILE

New faces set to light up season
The Wairarapa-Bush club rugby premiership, starting on Saturday, is shaping to be the most competitive in recent years with several new players set to light up the competition. Today, Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE casts his eye over four of the contenders and rates their chances.

CARTERTON

Coach Chris Senior has made some useful acquisitions to balance the loss of several players from last year’s team who made it to the final before being soundly beaten 32-10 by Gladstone.

Gone are the three English imports from last year – props Connor Baker and Isaac Dalton, and winger Nick Mason – who won’t be returning with the English club season running longer.

Also missing is Isaac Bracewell, who has picked up a contract with Wellington Rugby and is in the Hurricanes Under-20s squad.

Former North Harbour, Northampton and Newcastle Falcons player, Brent Wilson, will add a wealth of experience.

Sam Morrison.

The 37-year old utility forward played 84 matches in the English Premiership over six years with Newcastle. At 1.93m and 107kg, Wilson is capable of playing in the loose trio or at lock.

Hard-nosed former Wairarapa-Bush flanker Brock Price returns after a season of club rugby in England.

Senior has recruited three useful youngsters – first-five Sam Morrison and flanker Adam Gordon, who were part of the 2017 Wairarapa College First XV, and speedy winger Oakland Dean-Penney from Makoura College, who also played for the Pioneer Senior reserve side in 2017.

Senior said it was hard to gauge how the team would go. “The pre-season has been pretty average, we’ve lost all our pre-season games,” he said.

Carterton open their campaign in a repeat of last year’s final against Gladstone.

Coggie’s rating:

Strong forward pack. Good depth. Potential finalists.

EKETAHUNA

Eketahuna could be the dark horse in this year’s championship after some astute recruitment.

2017 Heartland prop Max Tufuga strengthens a front row that also includes 2018 Club Player of the Year, Sam Gammie,

Tom Simmers, who has previously played in Canterbury Country, and Regan Pope, who has transferred from Greytown, should make a formidable locking combination.

Adam Gordon.

The backline will be run by a new halfback – Lee Thompson, from Palmerston North Boys High School – and first-five Josh Pepperell, the son of Craig Pepperell, who played 59 games for Wairarapa-Bush from 1988 to 1995.

Experienced midfielder Robbie Anderson will captain the side.

An interesting addition will be 37-year-old Simanu Simanu, who played for the 2005 NPC Third Division and 2006 Meads Cup winning teams. The veteran outside back is expected at the club in the next three weeks, along with two other Samoan players.

Coach Wayne Roach is not making any bold predictions. “The team is definitely stronger than last year, but at the end of the day we’ve got to get on the paddock and do it.”

Eketahuna play Greytown away in their opening match

Coggie’s rating:

Big improvers from 2018. Will they have the depth? Semifinal threat.

MASTERTON RED STAR

Masterton Red Star coach Dave Maugatai is aiming for his side to raise their game this season.

The 2018 wooden-spooners, who conceded an average of 60 points a game last season, have had almost six months to get ready for this year’s competition compared with last season when they had only a few weeks to prepare after the late withdrawal of Pioneer from the premier championship.

Nathan Hunt, right, seen here playing for Wairarapa-Bush in 2007, returns to Tui Cup action in Martinborough colours after a four-year absence.

Red Star missed promotion in 2017 after winning the Senior Reserve championship but then losing the promotion-relegation match with East Coast.

That saw several players move to other clubs, meaning they fielded a very much-weakened team throughout the 2018 season.

With their place guaranteed this year, some of those players have returned to the club, most importantly flanker Karl Thompson and former Wairarapa-Bush hooker Cody Thompson, who have transferred from Martinborough.

Maugatai believes they could upset some teams.

“We know we’re in the ‘As’ and if we improve from week to week, we can compete against the other teams.”

Red Star start the season against Marist.

Coggie’s rating:

A lot better than 2018. Any wins would be a success. Wooden spoon.

MARTINBOROUGH

Robbie Anderson … Eketahuna captain.

Martinborough coach James Bruce has had a frustrating start to the season.

“We’ve had mixed numbers at training, and it gets harder every year with work commitments, especially with the rural-based clubs.”

Having said that, Bruce believes he has the squad to make a strong challenge for the championship.

“We can definitely make the top four. We want to get better every week and if we do that, we’re capable of being a play-off team,” he said.

Former New Zealand Heartlands representative winger Nathan Hunt returns to the club after a four-year absence. Veteran utility backs Tipi Haira and Tim Priest will play a key role in the backline, with Bruce intent on playing an exciting brand of rugby.

The forward pack has had a shake-up. Loose forwards Chris Raymond and Cody Cunningham have remained in the UK after a season in Scotland with the hope of gaining contracts at a higher level, while flanker Karl Thompson and hooker Cody Thompson have returned to Masterton Red Star.

Stanley Rhind is a flanker new to the district, having previously played for Taupiri in the Waikato premier competition.

Bruce is expecting experienced club players such as lock Toby Rowlands and prop Jonathon Hartnell to step up.

“We’ve been a young team for a long time, but those types of players are good senior club players and they’re invaluable to any team”.

Martinborough kick off against East Coast at Whareama.

Coggie’s rating:

May be slow starters. Plenty of attacking talent. Potential semifinalists.

Tomorrow

East Coast, Gladstone, Greytown and Marist.

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