The Taradale Premier Side of 2021 celebrates its club’s first Maddison Trophy final win since 2009.
Hawke’s Bay’s premier club rugby grade will kick off on Friday afternoon with a fresh new look in terms of format and available players.
And the 2022 season is looking wide open, with the competition’s
skill level evened out by the absence of most of the region’s elite players, engaged with professional contracts.
This year 11 teams will play a 12-week round-robin with five home games, five away games and a bye each.
The first-placed club will secure the Ray White Nash Cup and the top seed for the play-offs, consisting of quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final with the Ray White Maddison Trophy on the line.
Playing personnel has changed too, with the recent success of the Hawke’s Bay Magpies meaning more than 30 of their players are away playing professionally in Super Rugby Pacific, the US Major League Rugby and Japan’s Rugby League One.
Magpies head coach Josh Syms said there are currently just three contracted Magpies playing club rugby in Hawke’s Bay.
“It’s a really unusual occurrence for us,” he said, noting that when he started as an assistant coach in 2018 there were only nine Magpies playing professionally elsewhere.
“Hopefully we can take a whole new group of guys and get them that success.”
Syms said there will be plenty of opportunities for club players to battle for the final spots in the Bunnings NPC squad, as well as a place in his side for the pre-season Ranfurly Shield challenges.
“Try and find some of those guys who have missed their chance or been overlooked before,” they said.
The head coach thinks all the absences will make for an exciting, open premier grade competition.
“It could pretty much be any team, there are no huge standouts and there are no massive standout players, guys who are going to dominate,” Syms said.
Reigning Nash Cup and Maddison Trophy champions Taradale are still likely to be there at the business end of the season, even after losing key forwards like Namatahi Waa (Austin Gilgronis), Lolani Faleiva (Toronto Arrows), Gene Symington (North Harbor) and Nathan Tweedy (Leicester Tigers).
Co-coach Tim Combs said expectations remain high for the club’s 125th anniversary season.
“We’re gonna try and build on that platform that the 2021 team created. We’ve got a good bunch of guys and a good range of experience and youth,” he said.
Combs said Taradale won’t be taking anything for granted, though.
“There’s not going to be any easy games, we’ll have a target on our backs, but we’ll enjoy that.”
New boys Aotea have the first crack at Taradale and the Challenge Shield that they currently hold.
Club captain and premier team manager Bryan Te Huki said Aotea are excited about their campaign as the first southern Hawke’s Bay team to play in the grade since 2006.
“It’s going to be a huge learning curve for us but we just want to find out where we’re at,” he said.
“Playing the defending champs, what better way to test yourself?”
Senior coach Paul Withey and captain Tama-Sean Petera both retired after last year’s Hepa Paewai Memorial Trophy runners-up campaign.
However, Aotea have added experience to their young squad in former Magpies winger Ryan Tongia from Havelock North, along with Dannevirke native Weller Hauraki who has returned after 13 years in the Australian NRL and British Super League.
Te Huki got Aotea always draw good crowds to their home games and they hope to give local kids something to aspire to this season.
“It was the case that if you wanted to play premiere rugby you had to leave the township,” he said.
“Now that we’ve brought it back we hope we can keep those guys that do want to play and give them the avenue to play in Dannevirke.”
Men’s Premier Grade Round 1, all games start Friday 3pm
Havelock North vs Central Hawke’s Bay at Anderson Park
Hastings vs Napier Pirate at Elwood Park
Napier Old Boys’ Marist vs Trive at Tremain Field
Napier Tech Old Boys’ vs. MAC at Whitmore Park
Taradale vs Aotea at Tareha Reserve