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Dawning of a new era for North Harbour

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Former All Black Kieran Keane takes the reins from Tom Coventry, who did a fine job in 2017-18. Keane is vastly experienced and has coached Tasman, Connacht in Ireland and was the Chiefs assistant coach under Dave Rennie. He brings an attacking mindset which should suit North Harbour’s psyche down to the ground.

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Assisting Keane will be former Auckland and Waikato No 10 Brett Craies, who has taken Northcote to the top of club rugby in the province, and Sam Ward, who had charge of a fine Grammar TEC side in Auckland club rugby and who has a wide knowledge of the young talent in the wider Auckland region.

They have promoted no less than 13 players in this Harbour squad from club rugby, which is a pleasing move. There are, however, some big-name losses to injury and there was the tragic death of tighthead prop Mike Tamoaieta earlier in the year. Loosehead prop Chris Eves has departed for Bay of Plenty, while prolific wing Tevita Li and No 8 Hapakuki Moala-Liava’a are chasing the yen in Japan. No 10 Bryn Gatland and Glenn Preston are on the long-term injury list.

Leading from the front again will be centurion James Parsons, who would love to recapture his 2018 form which saw him named as the back-up rake in the NZ Rugby Almanack’s New Zealand Form XV. He kicked conversions and pulled out reverse passes, but he will need to lift again as prop Karl Tu’inukuafe looks set to be in the All Blacks again for the duration.

The Harbour pack will also look to the 2018 work-horses such as Murphy Taramai and Dillon Hunt to help secure possession in the loose, while leaning on the likes of Gerard Cowley-Tuoti, Jacob Pierce and Ben Nee-Nee to rule the airways.
In the backline, the signing of Matt McGahan from the Reds will offset the absence of Gatland, who was good for over 100 points in each of his last three seasons. Harrison Groundwater should again be the rock of the midfield, while wing Matt Duffie should be ready to fire after an injury-plagued season for the Blues.

If Harbour can keep all its men fit and firing, there is every chance it could again give the semifinals a shake, but too many injuries will be a severe test of its depth.

North Harbour kicks off its campaign on August 9 with a Friday night Eden Park appointment with Auckland for the Battle of the Bridge trophy. The other coveted piece of silverware is the Kevin Gimblett Memorial Trophy, in Canterbury’s possession. That match is the final clash of the regular season, on October 13. There are crossover games against Southland (August 25), Bay of Plenty (September 1), Otago (September 21) and Manawatu (September 29).

The squad is:
Forwards:
Karl Tu’inukuafe, Nic Mayhew, Luatangi Li, Sione Mafileo, James Parsons (co-captain), Luteru Tolai, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Jacob Pierce, Ben Nee-Nee, Xavier Cowley-Tuioti, Dillon Hunt, Murphy Taramai, Ethan Roots, Lotu Inisi
Backs: Bryn Hall, Lewis Gjaltema, Jack Heighton, Matt McGahan, James Little, Fine Inisi, Harrison Groundwater, Tomas Aoake, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Mark Telea, Matt Duffie, Jared Page, Shaun Stevenson

Management:
Head coach: Kieran Keane
Assistant coaches: Brett Craies, Sam Ward

Last year: Fifth in Premiership
Notable gains: Tomas Aoake, Matt McGahan, Jared Page, Asaeli Tikoirotuma
Notable losses: James Dargaville, Danny Drake, Chris Eves, Bryn Gatland, Daniel Hilton-Jones, Tevita Li, Hapakuki Moala-Liava’a, Mike Tamoaieta (deceased)