Southland ready to step up in 2019

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019    Getty Images

Helped by the rugby equivalent of homing pigeons, Southland will have the benefit of the return of home grown talent who have gone away and had their rugby OE before coming home to give the side some much needed experience.

Hewett said 26 of the players in the 35-man squad have played rugby in Southland and as many local players as possible have been part of a fitness training regime that has been in place since May.


Heading the list of returning players is former captain and hooker Brayden Mitchell who missed last season as the result of neck surgery. He should bring up 50 games for the province this year and is likely to do so in the company of his brother Morgan who has been playing professionally in Canada for the Toronto Arrows and has the distinction of playing after having cochlear implants to ease the deafness that threatened to end his career.

Also back from Taranaki and the Chiefs Super Rugby side will be Marty McKenzie who will provide some much needed experience, and versatility, in the backline with his ability to play fullback or first five-eighths. He played 26 games for Southland in 2011-13 before having five seasons with Taranaki in which he played 36 times and scored 392 points while also having stints in Super Rugby with the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs.

Scott Eade, who had stints at halfback or first five-eighths, is another to return to the side with 51 games previously and 215 points. He took a break from rugby last year.

Moving south from Waikato is Charles Alaimalo, a loose forward from the New Zealand Secondary Schools side of 2017, while another Waikato player in the side will be Josh Moorby, who was a member of the New Zealand Sevens development squad this year.
Blindside flanker Mike McKee has returned after time spent in Counties Manukau and in Singapore. Should contract arrangements with Elliot Dixon's Japanese club Ricoh allow him to take part in the competition, Southland should be well served in the loose forward department.

Australian-based Super Rugby players, Seb Wileman, formerly of the Waratahs but now of the Reds, and Lausii Taliauli, who has 25 games for the Brumbies, will bolster the midfield and outside backs. Logan Crowley, who had 14 games for Taranaki, before heading south will boost the halfback ranks where former New Zealand Under-20 player Jay Renton and Nico Costa are also available.

Experienced hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate, who has played Mitre 10 Cup rugby for Bay of Plenty, North Harbour and Auckland and also played Super Rugby for the Blues and Highlanders, has also moved south.

Missing from last season's side are utility back James Wilson and loose forward Tony Lamborn, both of whom have returned to overseas play. Lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit was named in the squad but back surgery has ruled him out for the season.

The squad is:
Joe Walsh, Ethan de Groot, Chris Apoua, Shaun Stodart, Morgan Mitchell, Flynn Thomas, Brayden Mitchell, Greg Pleasants' Tate, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Ben Fotheringham, Ray Tatafu, Mike McKee, Ben Paulin, Taine Te Whata, Charles Alaimalo, Matt James, Phil Halder, Bill Fukofuka, Pasilio Tosi, Elliot Dixon, Jay Renton, Nico Costa, Logan Crowley, Mitchell Taylor, Scott Eade, Marty McKenzie, Ray Nu'u, Javaan Fa'amore-Ioane, Seb Wileman, Moses Faletolu, Lewis Ormond, Isaac Te Tamaki, Rory van Vugt, Josh Moorby, Lausii Taliauli.

Team management: Coach Dave Hewett, attack coach Jason Kawau, defence coach Dale MacLeod.

Last year: Bottom of Championship
Notable gains: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Josh Moorby, Mike McKee
Notable losses: James Wilson, Tony Lamborn