Boots to books . . . Heartland stalwarts Ralph Darling (left) and Lemi Masoe have joined the North Otago management team this season. PHOTO: HAMISH MACLEAN

The golden men of North Otago Rugby are stepping up.

North Otago centurion Ralph Darling had been named as assistant coach of the North Otago Heartland team, joining head coach Jason Forrest, for the 2022 season.

Fellow centurion Lemi Masoe and Scott Mayhew, who played 50 caps in the 2000s, have been appointed team managers.

They replace former assistant coach Shane Carter and managers Mike Mavor and Murray Pearson who all stepped down for personal reasons.

Physio Simon Robins has also taken up a role with Bay of Plenty Rugby.

Forrest said last year’s group had been fantastic towork alongside and the players respected them hugely.

‘‘A big thank you to Shane, Simon, Murray and Mike from me for all the time they have given up to be part of it all,’’ Forrest said.

Barry Matthews returns to do technical analysis and in a mentoring role, and Glen Sturgess as the strength and conditioning coach.

Forrest wanted to keep his management group local, and said it was exciting to have the experience of more than 250 representative caps sitting alongside him.

Darling, a prop who nailed a dropped goal to help North Otago win the 2019 Meads Cup final, brought a wealth of experience as a player but has been co›coaching Old Boys for years.

‘‘Ralph’s done a lot of coaching. People probably don’t realise because he’s been playing the whole time, but technically [he’s] a very good coach.’’

Darling will spend time alongside Otago head coach Tom Donnelly gaining experience before the start of the season.

While Darling’s and Masoe’s focus was on the management team, they both made appearances for North Otago last season and could be called upon again, Forrest said.

‘‘The glory of having Lemi and Ralph here is if we’re on away trips and we get injuries and that sort of thing, they’re still playing club rugby, and [can] fill voids if need be.’’

They were ‘‘buzzing’’ to be involved and Forrest said it felt like a new start.

‘‘For me it sort of takes us back to 2019. We started afresh, everything’s going to be new and different.

‘‘I think the players have a lot of respect for those guys and if we can just bounce off each other that’s going to be the best thing about it.’’

North Otago Rugby chief executive Colin Jackson said it was exciting to have a young coaching group.

‘‘Heartland is all about pathways and opportunity. It’s great that players are now stepping up and want to be part of the management group,’’ Jackson said.

‘‘It’s good that we can promote directly from club rugby.

Forrest will name a fitness training squad at the end of the month.

The official squad will be named after the Citizens Shield final. The squad would work closely with North Otago’s development team.

‘‘We want to make sure we’re working together because there is a lot of young kids out there who will be in that side and we want to make sure they see pathways through that into Heartland.’’

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.

North Otago will also play a Heartland match against Mid Canterbury in Kurow on September 10. It is the first home match North Otago has played at a venue other than Whitestone Contracting Stadium and Forsyth Barr Stadium, in Dunedin.