Could this be Tainui’s year?
That is again the question for the Oamaru hockey club as it embarks on another quest to win the South Canterbury premier men’s title for the first time.
Tainui has fallen just short of its goal in recent years but will again field an experienced, talented team that should be in the mix come playoff time.
“I think we’ve again got the team to go all the way,” player-coach Jared Oven said before this weekend’s opening round.
“We’ve been there or thereabouts in recent years but we never seem to win those tight games.”
On the player front, Tainui has made two significant gains in the midfield.
Greg Webster has moved back to North Otago, and George Smith has been recruited by Ovens – the pair work together at the North Otago Veterinary Centre.
“Greg’s going to be a very big asset to the team,” Ovens said.
“George is a new vet in town who is hockey-mad. So work’s finally done something for us and not just brought rugby players in, ha ha.”
Ovens said Tainui had also picked up promising back/midfielder Henry Bower as Waitaki Boys’ High School was not playing in the Timaru competition this year.
The club has lost the services of Caleb Ludemann, who is taking a season off, while Richard Knight is concentrating more on golf and Ryan Stringer will also be in the “part-time” category.
“I think we’ve got a very similar team to last year,” Ovens said.
“We’ve been tinkering with our formation a bit in recent years and I don’t think it worked as well as we were hoping. I think this year, we’re going to go back to our stock-standard formation and just do what works for us.”
The competition still has five teams but there have been tweaks.
Ashburton’s two Wakanui teams have combined into one, and former Black Sticks star Hayden Shaw has taken some players with him from defending champion Cambridge to form a Temuka team.
“That Temuka team looks strong,” Ovens said.
“Wakanui will be stronger too, and Hearts might be the strongest of all. I think it’s going to be a very even competition this year.”
Tainui’s opening game is tomorrow against Northern Hearts at the Oamaru turf.