Varsity and COB set to be a must-watch
It may be early days in the McDonald’s Manawatu Senior One Club Rugby, but there is every chance that Saturday’s clash between Varsity and College Old Boys could be a sneak-peek of knock-out match to come later in the season.
Both on paper and on last week’s performances, Varsity and COB shape as the top two favourites for the Hankins Shield in 2019.
COB, fresh off posting a dominant 62-5 win against Linton last week, have named an eye-wateringly powerful backline for this weekend’s match.
Four Hurricane and Turbo Andre Taylor slots in at fullback, New Zealand Under 20s trialist Awatere Kiwara lines up on the wing and Manawatu Academy first five-eighth Stewart Cruden will make his club debut in the No 10 jersey.
They are joined by Turbo James Tofa (12), the pacey Patrick Tafili-Reid (13) and ex-Turbo and Horowhenua-Kapiti representative Willie Paia’aua (11). Young Josh McIntyre gets the start at halfback with Turbos wider training group member Michael Walsh out this week.
But if any team can withstand a backline of that class, it is the Sky Blues.
Their midfield of Ueta Tufuga and Hamish Northcott is of representative class, but they are still missing the likes of Te Rangatira Waitokia (NZ Sevens Development) and Cody Hemi (injured).
While the backlines are packed with big names, it is the forward pack where this match is likely to be won or lost.
For Varsity, Doug Juszcyzk and Ian Burmeister were standouts last week and they have the athletic Michael Halatuituia back on the side of the scrum. Flynn Yates is a strong prospect at hooker and has club-standouts Max and Sam Tufuga help him set the platform up front.
COB will be hoping their scrum will be just as destructive as it was against Linton Army.
But they are without Adam Coll this week with Rawhiri Chambers filling the void. Cory Purton continues to hold Turbo hooker Gene Syminton to the bench.
Defending champions Feilding Old Boys-Oroua are chomping at the bit to get their campaign underway after a week one bye.
They have much of their squad back from last year, but the likes of Sean Paranihi and Junior Laloifi won’t be back until later in the year and Poara Rakatau likely to miss most of the season injured.
Their additions this year include Feilding High School trio Layton Manuel, Mark Coogan and Paul Rakatau-Wiperi, ex-Kia Toa first five Zyon Hekenui, St Kents lock Stefan Williams and former Free State Cheetahs flanker Nardus Erasmus.
Key men back on deck for week one are fullback Shai Wiperi, last season’s leading try scorer Ollie Brosnahan, midfielder Jamie Perigo, halfback Tom Stewart and regular hooker Max Fryatt, who will start the season on the side of the scrum.
They face a depleted Te Kawau team this weekend missing a host of front-liners which means their Turbos hooker Sam Stewart is set for rare start at No 8.
Meanwhile, they have ex Linton midfielder Jamie Maoate on deck in the midfield.
Kia Toa have promoted Brayden Iose and Lifeimi Mafi to the starting side for their match against Linton Army.
The duo came off the bench in round one. Former Freyberg stalwart Michael Lockwood starts at hooker with Jeremy David shifting from No 2 to openside flanker.
Kia Toa are missing Atu Henare, Fraser Stone and Tobias Wickham-Manuel this week, but have Jackson Iose returning from injury via the bench.
Feilding Yellows will look to bounce back against Freyberg this weekend.
They have Griffin Culver on deck this week, but Josiah Maraku is taking a week off after leaving the field injured last week.
Regular prop Sean Rankin slots in at lock to allow for a completely new front row of Jack Fleury, Ricky Cribb and Luke Clarke.
Freyberg have much of the same backline as their loss to Kia Toa, but it up front that they are looking thin.
Lock Andrew Wood will convert to the frontrow to cover their short-fall at prop with both James Cornelius and Jeremiah Saua out of the side.
Lookout for fullback Wiremu Morgan and centre Iosefa Mataroa as their dangermen.
P Johnson (FOB Oroua), Senior 2 FOB Oroua vs Bush, Reckless play, two-week suspension
T Kolofale (Kia Toa), Senior 2 Kia Toa vs Freyberg, Misconduct, two -week suspension