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New season . . . The 2019 Meads Cup-winning North Otago rugby team. PHOTO: FILE

North Otago Rugby is getting down to business. Heartland coach Jason Forrest has named a 55-person training squad for the season, and training got under way on Wednesday night.

It is a large and varied squad with players from all Citizens Shield clubs involved, as well as players from Waitaki Boys’ High School and St Kevin’s College.

Forrest said the squad was a starting point for him and assistant coach Ralph Darling to see who was committed for the representative season, both for the Heartland and the North Otago development sides.

‘‘The biggest thing is, is that’s not our Heartland side. There’s a lot of opportunity for guys that haven’t made it to still make either squad moving forward,’’ Forrest said.

‘‘There’s a few names that don’t need to be named in this one. We know what they provide.’’

The squad was packed with young talent, and their selection was based off strong performances for their clubs so far.

‘‘We really want to reward these young guys — and their performances so far warrant that.’’

It was the first time a group of secondary school players had been included in the squad.

‘‘We just want to get these boys involved and show them that there is a pathway, and these are some seriously good rugby players at the same time.’’

The squad will be focused on fitness and skills and drills at present, with strength and conditioning coach Glen Sturgess.

Fitness was akey area Forrest wanted to work on this season. Whether it was the Heartland team or the development squad, North Otago wanted to‘‘run teams off their feet’’.

The squad will head to Waikouaiti on June 8 to train against Otago in a ‘‘scenario game’’.

The Citizens Shield competition is heating up between all sides this year and the next few weeks will be important for Forrest, and Darling to watch.

‘‘The level’s going to rise, so it’ll be really big from our side of things to see what players adjust to that and it’s about that next level.’’

After the Citizens Shield final on July 2, Forrest will name a Heartland squad of 35 players, followed by a development squad naming.

At that time, Forrest will consider where loan players are needed.

North Otago will travel to Taupo on August 6 to play King Country in a pre-season clash for the Gold and Maroon Cup.

On August 13, North Otago will host Otago Country in another pre-season game. The Heartland season gets under way on August
20.

The development side’s season starts on August 6, playing Southland under-19 and then competing in the Hanan Shield.