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Rutene welcomes Harmon’s return

Levi Harmon, with ball, playing for the Wellington Sevens team in 2018. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
[email protected]

Former Wairarapa College student Levi Harmon is the surprise selection in the Farriers Wairarapa-Bush squad named to prepare for the Heartland Championship.

Harmon, a skilful midfield back, has been playing for the Green Island club in Dunedin, after previously playing for Poneke in Wellington, where he also represented the province in sevens.

Harmon comes into the squad as a player of origin, and with the possibility of former All Black Zac Guildford becoming available, there is the potential to develop a powerful midfield combination.

Wai-Bush coach Mark Rutene said the speedy Harmon comes with an impressive background.

“He was in Hawke’s Bay last year and is down in Dunedin this year and missed out on the Otago squad.

“Luckily for us he made himself available. He was in the Wellington squad a few years ago before he got injured, so we’re pleased he’s coming up to play,” Rutene said.

The squad is noted for the depth of experience, with four players – Andrew McLean, Inia Katia, Tipene Haira, and Johann van Vliet – in the 2011 squad, the first year of Rutene’s first coaching tenure.

Veteran lock McLean, with 82 caps, returns after missing the truncated 2020 Heartland season, and Rutene is rapt to have “the assassin” back in the fold.

“He’s one of the best lineout exponents around and has been for several years, and you know what he can deliver at that level because he keeps doing it.”

McLean is joined by Marist captain Peter Beech and NZ Defence Force and former Mid-Canterbury rep Vesi Luatua in the middle row.

Two of the outstanding outside backs from Marist’s 2020 championship-winning side, winger Soli Malatai and fullback Tafa Tafa, who both play for Upper Hutt in the Wellington competition, return as players of origin.

Former Poverty Bay representative winger Matt Raleigh was rewarded for a consistent club season with Eketahuna, leaving no room for Carterton’s exciting outside back trio of Fiula Tameilau, Aseri Waqa, and Aisea Sakopo.

“We had a good look at them, and they’ve been playing good footy,” said Rutene, “but when you look at the backs we’ve got, there are some pretty good players in there, and those boys if they stay around, they will play rep rugby, and they will play in the Under-20s.”

One outside back who will be missing for the preseason and early rounds will be Greytown’s Moomoo Falaniko. He broke the ankle on his kicking foot 10 minutes into the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup, but carried on, kicking 15 points for the victors.

Loose forward Joe Tako, now playing for Massey in Manawatu, is the fourth player of origin.

Jake Goodger takes the ball up for Wai-Bush in the preseason clash with Hawke’s Bay. PHOTO/FILE

Marist hooker Henry Wilson and Martinborough loose forward Jake Goodger are the only two players without first-class experience, with the latter impressing Rutene in a struggling club team.

“The competition in the loosies was pretty tough. Jake got the nod because stood out in a team that were beaten all second round. We like what he does, and we’d like to see him at the next level.”

Another feature is the inclusion of five props – former Hurricane and Tongan international Tolu Fahamokioa, Lewis Bush, Chris Hemi, Tupou Lea’aemanu, and Jeramiah Mapusua.

Rutene sees Lea’aemanu as a frontrower despite the powerful Tongan impressing at No 8 for Carterton.

Carterton’s Daryl Pickering and Inia Katia are the halfbacks, while Haira, Harmon, Carterton first-five Sam Morison, and Eketahuna’s Robbie Anderson are the midfield-inside backs named, although Anderson’s early involvement could be limited in the preseason after he strained a hamstring in Saturday’s Hodder-Steffert Cup final against Pioneer.

Rutene and assistant coaches Brent Wilson and Nathan Riwai-Couch have named a big squad because there’s no Wai-Bush development team and to cover for potential injuries and unavailabilities.

One back will be added to the squad, possibly Guildford, who captained Greytown to championship victory on Saturday.

As for the team’s goal, Rutene said the initial focus is on Saturday’s Jeremy David Memorial Cup match against Poverty Bay in Napier.

“I’m like every coach in Heartland and we want to win a Meads Cup, but first of all we’ve got together and make sure that we build a good culture, and from that have a good game plan and take it game by game and I’m not looking too far ahead apart from West Coast.”

WAIRARAPA-BUSH SQUAD

BACKS

Outside backs: Moomoo Falaniko [Greytown], Tristan Flutey [Martinborough], Soli Malatai [Upper Hutt], Matt Raleigh [Eketahuna], Tafa Tafa [Upper Hutt]. Midfield: Robbie Anderson [Eketahuna], Levi Harmon [Green Island], Tipene Haira [Martinborough], Sam Morison [Carterton]. Halfbacks: Daryl Pickering [Carterton], Inia Katia [Carterton]. One more to be added.

FORWARDS

Loose forwards: Sam Gammie [Eketahuna], Jake Goodger [Martinborough], Tavita Isaac [Greytown], Joe Tako [Massey], Johan van Vliet [Eketahuna, captain]. Locks: Peter Beech [Marist], Andrew McLean [Gladstone], Vesi Luatua [Eketahuna]. Props: Lewis Bush [Greytown], Tolu Fahamokioa [Greytown], Chris Hemi [Greytown], Jeramiah Mapusua [Marist], Tupou Lea’aemanu [Carterton]. Hookers: Terongo Tekii [Carterton], James Pakoti [Martinborough], Henry Wilson [Marist].

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