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Waitaki Boys' First XV first-five Mason James (left) will be a key player this year. Midfielder Jerome Misiloi (right) will captain the St Kevin's College First XV this year. PHOTOS: PETER MCKINTOSH AND CASWELL IMAGES

New opportunities await, with the new year of secondary school rugby. Gus Patterson looks at how the two Oamaru schools are shaping up before this weekend’s opening round of the Otago First XV competition.

ST KEVIN’S COLLEGE

According to St Kevin’s College head coach Robbie Breen, this year’s first XV is the strongest it has been in three years.

The team has retained several important players from last year, and has some talented players rising through the ranks.

Last year, St Kevin’s controversially missed out on the top six of the Otago premier schools competition, when Otago Boys’ defaulted a game to Mt Aspiring College which led to the Wanaka School making the top six ahead of it.

This year, at the completion of a round robin, the competition will be divided into three divisions of four teams, and Breen said St Kevin’s is aiming to at least make the middle four.

He would also like to see the team make the Catholic Schools South Island Final.

“There is also that big game in July which everyone wants to target,” he said.

“Also just give some of those bigger schools a fright, and let them know who St Kevin’s is.”

The two stars of the forward pack are prop Tupou Fifita and loose forward Paea Fifita, who provide plenty of size and skill.

The team has experience in the important inside back positions – Marc Boardman at 10, Jerome Misiloi at 12 and Frano Flannery at 13 have all played more than 20 games for the team.

Breen also picked out Leonard Varu as someone to watch this year.

Breen said the team would try to play a fast style of rugby with lots of width and control.

WAITAKI BOYS’ HIGH SCHOOL

It is a new-look Waitaki Boys’ First XV this year, with only seven returning players from last year’s team that made the competition’s semifinals.

Coach Wayne Kinzett said the squad had been training for a couple of months, and was fresh off the back of a camp last weekend.

The backline has been hit hard by departures, including last year’s stars Bailey Sullivan and Brayden Skinner.

Several forwards have returned, including Oliver Kinzett, Jacob Pledger and Jake Davies.

Mason James will run the cutter at first-five and Ben Paton will shift from the wing to midfield.

Kinzett picked prop Daniel Baxter and lock Marshall Palmer as ones to watch, as well as basketball convert Viliami Fellows to provide athleticism in the outside backs.

Kinzett said it would be difficult to take the bigger teams on up front. However, the team was aiming high this year.

“You have to aim to win the top four and the interschools, and we will reassess as the year goes on.”