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Magpies ready to soar in 2019

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Sunday, August 4, 2019    allblacks.com    Getty Images

But it was a significant turnaround for Hawke's Bay who enjoyed the benefits of an infusion of home-grown talent during the campaign and who look set to make a big contribution for the side in years to come, one of them Kiane Kereu-Symes having already lead New Zealand's Under-20 side to the junior world championships this year.

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Benefits from their improved success also saw more players winning Super Rugby contracts and that also helped grow the depth available for the side.

Boosting the campaign for 2019 will be the return of loose forward Brendan O'Connor who had four seasons with Leicester in England's Premiership. Before leaving in 2015 he played 31 games for Hawke's Bay after transferring north from Canterbury and the Crusaders, while he also played 41 Super Rugby games for the Blues.

Also back in the region is fullback/utility Caleb Makene. He moved south from Napier Boys' High School to study at Lincoln University in 2015 and played nine games for Tasman in 2016 and for Canterbury in the 2017-18 seasons while also being part of the Crusaders' wider training squad.

Rounding out the acquisitions is Hurricanes lock Isaia Walker-Leawere who had a good season at Super Rugby level and who hails from Gisborne.
With the experience of hooker Ash Dixon, No.8 Gareth Evans, lock Michael Allardice, wings Jonah Lowe and Mason Emerson, added in, Hawke's Bay has a solid core to build their game around. Evans and O'Connor will provide some guile and know-how in the loose forwards something that should help Devan Flanders and Highlanders No.8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u take more steps up in their careers.

Whether Brad Weber at halfback might be added to that mix could depend on whether the All Blacks selectors look to take three halfbacks to the Rugby World Cup. Should he get the call-up, 19-year-old Folau Fakatava will relish the opportunities after having made his Super Rugby debut with the Highlanders this year.

There is a chance that first five-eighths Tiaan Falcon may still make the side by the end of the season as his recovery from injury continues, but Lincoln McClutchie stepped up last season in the role and is available again.

Also looking to return to bolster the three-quarter line is Sam McNicol, who has had nearly two years out of the game due to concussion. But he has made a managed return and been included in the Bay squad.

The elements are all in place for another competitive season for the side, who last year demonstrated their attacking worth when scoring 46 tries, a Union record since the competition was revamped in 2006.

The Hawke's Bay squad is:

Ash Dixon, Ben May, Brad Weber, Brendan O'Connor, Brodie Retallick, Caleb Makene, Danny Toala, Devan Flanders, Folau Fakatava, Gareth Evans, Geoff Cridge, Hannon Brighouse, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Jason Long, Jonah Lowe, Josh Kaifa, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Lincoln McClutchie, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Mason Emerson, Michael Allardice, Neria Fomai, Ollie Sapsford, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Sam McNicol, Solomone Funaki, Stacey Ili, Tiaan Falcon, Tim Farrell, Timo Vaiusu, Tom Parsons, Will Tremain, Zach Donaldson, Iakopo Mapu, Jacob Devery, Joel Hintz, Namatahi Waa, Ricky Hayes, Saia Paese, Tyrone Dodd-Edwards.

Last year: Losing semifinalist in Championship
Notable gains: Brendan O’Connor, Caleb Makene, Isaia Walker-Leaware