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Midfield maul . . . Valley centre Matthew Vocea, pictured trying to breach the Kurow defence during the Citizens Shield final, will be among the players pressing for Heartland Championship selection in the coming weeks. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

The next few weeks are all about opportunities for aspiring North Otago rugby players.

Take those opportunities in a couple of pre-season games, and Heartland Championship selection awaits – but fail to grasp them, and the jersey will go to someone else.

North Otago coach Nigel Walsh will get his first good look at what he has to work with this weekend when the Old Golds host Southland in a non-competition game at Whitestone Contracting Stadium.

“Some guys will get a good opportunity to show us what they have got, and whether they are ready to step into Heartland rugby,” Walsh said.

“Hopefully, they grasp that opportunity with both hands.”

Following the Southland game, Walsh and assistant Jason Forrest will name a wider training squad to prepare for the game against Otago Country at Kurow on August 11, and after that, they will finalise a Heartland Championship squad of 26 to 30 players.

Country rugby teams dominated the Citizens Shield this season, but Walsh said that did not automatically mean the bulk of the Heartland squad would be gumboot-wearers.

“It doesn’t necessarily translate that way. If you look at our club teams, some are star teams, and some have star players.

“Look at the likes of Kurow. They’re a really strong all-round team with a good culture and a strong attitude. That doesn’t mean to say we’ll have 10 players out of Kurow in the North Otago team.

“What we’ve got to look at now is what players can take that next step, and it is a big step.”

North Otago continues to talk to prospective imports and players of origin – Josh Buchan, who showed glimpses of his talent at fullback last year, is back in town – but there are no signatures on paper yet.

“We’ve been doing our homework, and we hope to get some things confirmed in the next week or so,” Walsh said.

The Old Golds coach was pleased with what he saw at the Citizens Shield final and over the club season.

“I thought the final was a great game with a great atmosphere. They were two very good teams that deserved to be in the final, and the size of the crowd just shows what country rugby means to the district.

and some downs, but it’s been a good all-round season, to be fair.

“Blues are probably kicking themselves for getting their team together a bit late. If they’d got settled early on, they could have been in the top four quite easily.

“Athies had a lot of good players and had potential to be a contender but just didn’t quite put it all together.

“The four teams that made the top four deserved to be there, and both semifinals could have gone either way.”

North Otago
Squad for Southland game
Hamish Slater, Simon Lilicama, Antonio Misiloi, Taina Tamou, Frank Kelly, Dan Lewis, Inoke Naufahu, Mika Mafi, Mat Duff, Junior Fakatoufifita, Anthony Amato, Filipo Veamatahau or Braden Barnes, Kelepi Funaki, Ralph Darling, Meli Kolinisau. Reserves: Jack Williams, Tom Furnival, Kafa Katoa, Isaac Shields, Barnes or Veamatahau, Glen Sturgess, Kayne Middleton, Tyler Burgess, Sam Tatupu, Matthew Vocea.