The Citizen’s Shield gets under way tomorrow with all of the sides looking to end Old Boys’ dominance and capture the shield.
All six teams have been hit by player loss, some more than others, but all teams are looking forward to kicking off the 2015 season in style.
Oamaru Mail reporter Brayden Lindsay chatted to the clubs to see how they are looking for the season ahead.
The Weston-based club, who reached the semifinals of last years competition, are looking to do the same this year and have attracted a couple of new players to the club.
Former Waitaki Boys’ High First XV captain Jake Greenslade has joined the club along with North Otago’s 2014 top try-scorer Matthew Vocea, who attended St Kevin’s College last year, while Phil Wilson who has recently moved to the area and will play halfback.
Lock Dan Conlan has returned after a couple of years away and Zayne Gard will make the step up from the B team, while Nick Webster and Hamish McKenzie have hung up the boots and will be missed.
Nathan Cunningham will be joined by Gareth Isbister in the coaching ranks this season, and is looking forward to the campaign ahead.
“We have gained a few new players from last year and also lost a couple so we are aiming for the semifinals again,” said Cunningham.
Valley will take on Old Boys at Weston Park at 3pm.
Kurow are hoping to continue on from their strong pre-season form which included wins over Southland club Riversdale, and Athletic Marist.
“We recorded a couple of wins which is awesome, so we’re hoping for a positive start,” coach Kevin Malcolm said.
“We want to be having a street party on July 26, it’s a lofty goal, but we will see how we go.”
Kurow have picked a couple of handy acquisitions this year in former Crusaders and New Zealand sevens rep Ben Nowell, who will play first-five, while Ronald Vaurasi – a midfield back from Canterbury – looks promising.
Former Otago and Canterbury lock Rob Verbakel is in the area occasionally throughout the season for work so will help coach and may even put the boots on while Simeli Koniferedi and Sana Nahuto return again this year.
Kurow will welcome Maheno for a 2pm kick off at Kurow tomorrow.
The Blues finished their pre-season with a final hit out against Hampstead from Ashburton and although it was a loss, coach Troy Looms, who is in his first season in charge of the side, is looking forward to the challenge.
“It will be a lot of fun and we have a similar squad to last year, but have lost the odd player as well,” said Looms.
Lock Don Lolo, who was one of the standouts in club rugby last year has transferred to Waimate to play for new South Canterbury coach Barry Matthews, while imports Callum Lines and Ben La Sage are not returning.
Excelsior will be bolstered by the return of Cameron Keenan from overseas as well as Thomas Shields who arrives in May from a stint in England.
James Pillay has joined from Old Boys, Meli Kolinisau comes to the club from the Waitaki Boys’ High First XV and Joe Collins has come from the Tasman Maori and Tasman Titans league team.
Imports will also bolster the ranks in the coming weeks.
Former North Otago coach Mike Mullins, and assistant Jason Forrest, will also play this year.
“We’re aiming to make the semifinals again, but we will just see how it goes,” Looms said.
The side is looking forward to tackling Athletic Marist in their opening game tomorrow at 3pm.
Athies were beaten in the final last year by Old Boys and will be looking to go one better this term.
The side has lost close to 20 players and have a number of players unavailable due to work commitments.
Coach Graham Pitches said this season will be a rebuilding one.
“We’ve lost a number of players, but have also picked up a couple of players from outside the area,” he said.
Instrumental to the Athies’ chances will be returning first-five Ben Palmer, who played for North Otago last season, while Jared Whitburn is yet to return from England.
“We will pick up another couple of imports when they arrive with a couple of Argentinian lads joining the squad,” said Pitches.
Pitches said he was confident the large number of players leaving will not hurt the club’s chances.
“We just want to get the season under way and play some good rugby.”
The most dominant club over the last five years, Old Boys will be without key player Lemi Masoe for much of the season.
Masoe had surgery in the off season and is out of all rugby for at least four months. There’s hope the North Otago stalwart may return for the business end of the season.
Kilifi Fangupo is at the helm this season and he has lost players like Masoe, Tai Aholelei, Englishmen Chris Perry and Greg Powell and Canadian Wade Hodgen, while Jackson Reid has moved south.
However, Old Boys have picked up Maka Lea, and Sam Wicks from Athies, Sileki Tubuna, Viliami Sanet, Siosiua Ngalo and Filipo Veamatahau as well as Inoke Naufahu, Stuart Kirby and Maema Mapusaga. Manager Warren Bloxsom said the side are hoping for a positive start this weekend.
“Hopefully we can go out to Valley and claim the points, it would be a great start for us.”
Bloxsom said they’re happy with squad they’ve assembled for this year.
The country club based 15 minutes south of Oamaru was in danger of not entering a team this year, but have managed to find enough players to remain in the grade.
They’ve lost North Otago captain Josh Clark, halfback Robbie Smith, no 8 Matt Mullins, and midfield pairing Joe Marston and Chris Jennings.
It will be a rebuilding year for the green and blacks.
Mark Wilson, who coached Old boys for a number of years is now in charge and said they are doing what they can to make the club stronger again.
“We’re looking to work with Barry Stevens to see if we can attract players from Dunedin or abroad.”
Wilson said his players are looking forward to tomorrow’s clash with Kurow.
“Heading to Kurow first up is no easy feat but we are looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
PHOTO: BRAYDEN LINDSAY – Ralph Darling in action for Old Boys for last year. The side is out to win it’s fifth consecutive Citizen’s Shield.