North Otago coach Nigel Walsh hopes to see plenty of Heartland Championship contenders stake their claims for jerseys at Weston this weekend.
A second clash in the revived Town-Country fixture should be a good day out in its own right, but it assumes huge importance for Walsh and assistant coach Jason Forrest.
It is a virtual trial, a chance for regular, fringe and prospective new Old Golds to press for selection ahead of the representative campaign.
“It’s about commitment, for me,” Walsh told the Oamaru Mail.
“We want to see players who want to be a part of this and want to put their hand up for Heartland selection.
“We’re keeping a completely open mind. Everyone gets an opportunity.
“There will be some good competition out there and we are looking for a really entertaining game.
“We’ve got two good sides, and it will be about who can perform under pressure.
“Town-Country was a good spectacle last year. We want to keep this game going, and keep rasing the bar.”
Walsh and Forrest have co-ordinated selection of the squads, and will give final messages at training sessions, but they will be at the park as observers on Saturday.
Kurow coaches Nick and Tim Anderson will look after the Country side, and Old Boys co-coach Lemi Masoe will handle Town.
sort of mid-season game, a handful of top players have pulled out with injury, but the two sides are still strong.
A feature should be the clash of the forward packs, where a Town eight powered by Old Golds talisman Ralph Darling, talented newcomer Anthony Amato and Athletic Marist strongman Jared Whitburn will tackle a Country unit with a dynamic front row – Kurow sensation Petelo Pouhila and Valley men Sam Sturgess and Meli Kolinisau – and a rugged loose trio.
Country has a Kurow-dominated backline that will try to get Valley’s Matthew Vocea and Maheno’s Lachie Kingan into space, while Town will run off in-form Old Boys halfback Inoke Naufahu and see if Athletic Marist ball-runners Taina Tamou and Simon Lilicama can bust things open.
Walsh relished the chance to watch an intense clash between Old Boys and Excelsior last weekend, and he has been impressed with the standard of play in the Citizens Shield.
“It’s been very good, actually, and the third round should be really interesting as all the clubs have their players now.
“I probably watched one of the best games I’ve seen in Oamaru for a couple of years. Excelsior v Old Boys was a really enjoyable game.”
Under 11-12 (11.45am) and under 9-10 (1.30pm) Town-Country games will also be played at Weston.
Town v Country
Weston, Saturday, 2.45pm
Town: Hamish Slater, Simon Lilicama, Frank Kelly, Taina Tamou, Anton Ngongo, Kayne Middleton, Inoke Naufahu, Kafa Katoa, Jared Whitburn, Isaac Shields, Anthony Amato, Sale Pi’i, Kelepi Funaki, Jack Williams, Ralph Darling. Reserves: Will Sunderland, Thomas Shields, Junior Fakatoufifita, Antonio Misiloi, Ross Lewis, Timoci Bulitavu, one to be added.
Country: Lachie Kingan, Dean Fenwick, Matthew Vocea, Jesse Porter, Sam Fleming, Tyler Burgess, Sam McDonald, Jake Greenslade, Cameron Rowland, Cameron Bennett, Braden Barnes, Harvard Fale, Meli Kolinisau, Sam Sturgess, Petelo Pouhila. Reserves: Logan Dunlop, Tom Furnival, Cedric Laurent, Ethan Gregory-Hunt, Glen Robertson, two to be added.