North Otago coach Mike Mullins has named an extended squad of 24 players ahead of next weekend’s opening round of the Heartland Championship.
The squad has been named to allow for some of the players who are carrying niggles to prove their fitness. The 22-man squad to tackle Buller will be revealed after those players are assessed at training on Tuesday.
The side features seven fresh faces who were unable to tour the Pacific Islands. They are prop Palenapa Mafi, hooker Unga Kefu, lock Tom Rowe, first-five Ben Palmer and backs Tinina Sauileoge, Ekeroma Sauileoge and Kaituu Kaufana.
Mullins said he was happy with the squad selected.
“There were some difficult decisions around picking the squad. There are plenty of players who were in contention, which is a good situation to be in,” he said.
They were only naming a squad of 22 players because they wanted to keep the development team as strong as possible, Mullins said.
“We don’t want to name too many players in the squad like your usual 28-30 players. We’d rather name 22 each week, then have the remaining players available for the development team.”
Mullins said there would still be chances for fringe players to force their way into the matchday 22.
“Every team has injuries and players who struggle for form so there will be a chance for other players at some stage and the team could vary slightly, depending on who the side was facing. We used 37 players in 10 games last year,” Mullins said.
The former Irish midfield back expects tough competition from Buller, who have had a good pre-season to date.
Lock Jared Whitburn missed selection due to injury, but will be monitored throughout the campaign.
Palenapa Mafi, Rob Mafileo, DJ Sears-Duru, Thomas Shields, Ralph Darling (vice- captain), Unga Kefu, Tom Rowe, Don Lolo, Matt Duff, Sale Pi’i, Matt Mullins, Josh Clark (captain), Samisoni Tongotongo, Manulua Taiti
Backs: Robbie Smith, Stephen Fenemor, Diego Biro, Ekeroma Sauileoge, Tinina Sauileoge, Simeli Koniferedi, Lemi Masoe (vice-captain), Ben Palmer, Kaituu Kaufana, Chris Talanoa.
By BRAYDEN LINDSAY
PHOTO: JAMES FORD
KEY PLAYER: Midfield back Lemi Masoe will be one of two vice captains for the Old Golds in this years Heartland Championship.