The race for the 2022 Southland premier club rugby title begins on Thursday night. The semifinals have this year been scrapped with the top two teams after the round-robin series to play-off for the Galbraith Shield. Logan Savory takes a look at how the seven teams shape up.
Key players: Jacob Payne, Jay Renton, Arese Poliko, Kelepi Holi, Kalani Elder, Michael Manson, Brad Kooman.
One to watch: Hayden Michaels. The Highlanders under-20 flanker was called into the Stags in 2021 and will be hoping for a big 2022 club season.
The outlook: Hats off to the recruiters at Balmoral Dr who have done a great job in the off-season. Blues has assembled a promising young squad which includes lock Albert Qoro who made the shift from the Barbarians. Loosefoward Billy Andrew has joined Blues after finishing at Southland Boys’ High School, while recent Stags signing Michael Manson, a winger, will also play for Blues this year. After a season with Marist halfback Jay Renton has returned to the Blues. Simon Frisby, Filimoni Tagicakibau, and Pehi Te Whare will coach the team this year.
Prediction: Just missing ….. Expect Blues to have one of its better seasons in recent times. They should knock loudly at the door of a finals spot, although it might not open. The young team’s time to really shine might come in future seasons.
Key players: Lachie McCall, Brenton Howden, Jacob Coughlan, Angus Simmers, Jhavis Wallace, Emeka Ilogo.
One to watch: John Tapueluelu. The outside back has represented Tongan in both thew sevens and 15s format. He has played his recent club rugby in Dunedin with Alambra-Union but has now linked with the Barbarians in Southland.
The outlook: The Eastern-Northern Barbarians have had an encouraging build up to the season fitting in three preseason wins, the latest in a 21-0 victory over Marist. Bretton Taylor, who coached the Barbarians to a Galbraith Shield title in 2016, has returned to take back hold of the reigns. Veteran Lachie McCall has also returned to the mix, while former Stags halfback Jahvis Wallace has returned to Southland after a stint away. Young forwards Mykel Sleeman, Caine Taylor, and Danyon Brunton bring some exciting youth to the team, as does back Taylor Peterson. Bretton Taylor will be helped by Greg Saunders and Nathan Howden throughout the 2022 campaign.
Prediction: Just missing ….. The Barbarians is a team known for its no-nonsense approach led by its forward pack, but expect the country side to play with more width this year. With that added to its game, they should be the biggest threat to competition favorites Woodlands and Pirates-Old Boys.
Key players: Shaun Stodart, Flynn Thomas, Liam Udy-Johns, Ben Fotheringham, Scott Eade, Will Murray.
One to watch: Quinn Harrison-Jones. The tight-head prop has previously been in the Tasman system but made the shift south late in 2021 when he joined Marist. There will be interest around just what sort of impact Harrison-Jones may have in 2022.
The outlook: Marist’s strength in 2022 looks to be centered around its forward pack which possesses experience and talent. But its backline depth looks skinny with the usual forward Jack Nally shifted to the center to help bolster the outside back stocks. Stags back Tevita Latu will miss the club season with a shoulder injury, while the usual first five-eighth Scott Eade is set to start the season at halfback. Although the club could have halfback arriving from Scotland soon. Marty Smith will again coach the team, with Eade doubling as a player and a coach.
Prediction: Not this year ….. Marist should compete well enough up front, but it could well lack the depth in the backline stocks to be a genuine title threat this season, especially if injuries arise.
Key players: Campbell Wood, Joe Robins, Juan Kyle, Sam Wheeley, Ben McKercher.
One to watch: Henry Earland. The outside back has been regarded as an exciting young talent in Southland rugby for a while but missed club rugby last year because of injury. There’s hope in might get the clearance in the coming weeks to make a return.
The outlook: Whatever unfolds in 2022 the Midlands Rugby Club deserves a pat on the back. It’s a club that is willing to test itself in the premier ranks even if the more comfortable approach would have been to stay in the second-tier division one competition. After coaching the Verdon College 1st XV to the Southland-wide under-18 competition in 2021, Brendan Dennis has stepped in to coach the Midlands. He is being assisted by Regan Wilson who is in charge of the backline. While acknowledging the Midlands has a significant task in front of it, Dennis said they were not there to make up numbers. He wants to see his players competing for the entire 80 minutes and if so he suggests they could give some teams a fright. Staying relatively injury-free will be important for the Midlands.
Predication: Spirited effort, but it is not a push for the final ….. The Winton-based probably does not have the depth and quality of many of the other teams. A finish closer to the bottom of the pack than the top looks likely, but that shouldn’t mean 2022 isn’t a success.
Key players: Josh Harwood, Tuapati Talemaitoga, Ben Morris, Dustin Coveny, Josh Murrell, Greg Dyer, Jaye Thompson, Isaac Te Tamaki.
One to watch: Kaea Nikora-Balloch. The first five-eighth will line up for the Pirates-Old Boys in what is his first season of premier club rugby after finishing up at Southland Boys’ High School. Nikora-Balloch was recently included in the Highlanders under-20 squad.
The outlook: Pirates-Old Boys set the pace in 2021 when it won 11 straight round-robin games only to be upset by Star in the semifinal. That hurt the Surrey Park boys, and they are back with a vengeance in 2022 with arguably an even better squad than 2021. The Pirates-Old Boys look to have more depth than now, in particular in its forward pack. Included in the new additions is lock Ben Morris who has shifted south from Dunedin after signing with the Stags. Michael McKenzie and Ben McHugh are back at the helm of Pirates-Old Boys with its coaching resources also bolstered by Dayna Cunnigham joining as an assistant coach.
Predication: Beaten finalists ….. Pirates-Old Boys look very threatening heading into the 2022 season. Expect the Pirates-Old Boys to be there about to come to the crunch stage of the season.
Key players: Nico Manaena, Sanasco Crichton, Hayden Edgley, Grayson Knapp, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Jordan Stewart, Fale Iosefa, Ben Pope.
One to watch: Willie Tufui. The midfielder linked with the Stags for the 2021 season after playing club rugby for Harbor in Dunedin. Tufui is now set to line up for Star in Southland club rugby.
The outlook: Star’s off-season hasn’t been as kind as it has for some, whether it’s be player losses, injury, or Covid 19. Star has lost a host of players from the 2021 squad which made the Galbraith Shield final. Included are locks Jack Capil, and Mickey Woolliams, who have shifted out of the province, while flanker Corey Thompson has made the move to Mossburn. On top of that promising midfielder Micaiah Johnston Brown is on the injured list. Stags lock-cum-blindside Grayson Knapp has joined the club but is expected to miss a good chunk of the season through injury, as is Stags hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate. Star does have a good cover at hooker with Kaya Symon in the squad, while Jayden Henderson has joined the club from Riversdale. Ethan Yeo has also linked with Star after a stint studying in Dunedin and will join Hayden Edgley as halfbacks in the squad. Star has plenty of coaching experience on hand with Craig Pullar and Mark Tinnock on board.
Prediction: Not this year ….. Star has made a mockery of people who have written it off in the past but at the moment putting 15 on the park might be viewed as a victory for the Waverley Park boys early in the season.
Key players: Jason Rutledge, Charles Alaimalo, Caleb Aperahama, Liam Howley, Marty McKenzie, Matt Whaanga, Kieran Lee, Rory van Vugt.
One to watch: Paula Latu. The loosehead prop joined Southland last year from Hawke’s Bay and despite little game time with the Stags they impressed enough to be named rookie of the year.
The outlook: Death, taxes, and Woodlands being in the mix come crunch time of the Southland premier club season are life’s certainties. Woodlands has won back-to-back Galbraith Shield and will be amongst the favorites in its attempt to make it three in a row in what is the club’s 100th year. At full-strength Woodlands will roll out a backline this year that probably wouldn’t disgrace itself at the NPC level. They have picked up Stags wing Rory van Vugt during the off-season, while Tauasosi Tuimavave returns in 2022 after missing the 2021 season with an achilles injury.
Predication: Title winners …… At full strength Woodlands will roll out a team stacked with class and experience. The key to Woodlands will be overcoming some early season injuries and making sure they actually qualify in the top two. If they are part of the decider it will take a mighty effort to stop them.