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North Otago Rugby coach Jason Forrest. Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

Being able to name a large and varied Ranfurly Shield squad shows North Otago Rugby’s approach last year worked, coach Jason Forrest says.

The union promoted 17 local players to representative level last season, many of whom have been named in the preliminary 36-man Ranfurly Shield squad.

“It’s exciting with the mix we’ve got, with regards to the youth and some good experience in there,” Forrest said.

Still being able to name 36 players showed that last year’s plan worked “in regards to the local boys getting a crack and stepping up to that next level. We’re very happy with the squad we’ve named.”

Having players like Kurow’s Angus Foster and Cameron Keech in the side was fantastic.

“That’s the ones we like, that come into club rugby that we just don’t know anything about.

“They fit the mould of what we see ourselves being like this year with our culture and just our work ethic.”

Forrest was clear club players could still push for spots in the Heartland squad.

“This is just a Ranfurly Shield squad – there is still an opportunity for club rugby players to get their way into this squad.”

Training began on Wednesday as the team prepared for its third Ranfurly Shield challenge in three years, against Hawke’s Bay on June 30.

He had high expectations and expected players to want to earn the jersey. They would face hard work, he said.

“It will be different from their club systems, and we expect them to be better for us and even just at trainings with standards that we’ll set out.”

North Otago plays King Country in Oamaru at Queen’s Birthday weekend, and the squad would be narrowed down to 25 for that match.

Forrest would test some younger players during the game, as well as other combinations.

“Normally, we’d just go into a Ranfurly Shield cold. This game is in a few weeks’ time, [so] this is a massive opportunity for us.”

Players selected had a “foot in the door, but not a guarantee” for the Napier challenge.

Being given another opportunity at the shield was significant for North Otago, and Forrest and assistant coach Shane Carter were thrilled for the union.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for us … we’ve got a loyal supporters group that I know a few of them are already planning the trip up, and it’s just an opportunity for these guys to get themselves on TV.”

North Otago Ranfurly Shield training squad:

Athletic Marist: Shalom Viliamu, Lisivani Tu’ifua, Oliver Kinzett, Abel Magalogo, Mosese Aho. Excelsior: Mathew Duff, Tayne Russell, Josh Phipps, Mataroa Maui. Kurow: Cameron Keech, Angus Foster, Josh Reid, Alipate Tuipulotu, Taniela Samita, Dean Fenwick, Robbie Richardson. Maheno: Sam Tatupu, Jacob Day, Adam Johnson, Marcus Balchin, Hayden Tisdall. Old Boys: Kelepi Funaki, Leonard Varu, Toni Taufa, Sione Fa’aoso, Levi Atiga, Lemi Masoe, Manulua Taiti. Valley: Melikisua Kolinisau, Sam Sturgess, Jake Greenslade, Blake Welsh, Owen Davey, Jake Matthews, Mathew Vocea, Cameron Rowland.