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“Young and exciting” is how North Otago rugby coach Jason Forrest has described his 31-man training squad for the coming representative season.

Despite the cancellation of this year’s Heartland Championship, North Otago will play seven representative fixtures this season, including a Ranfurly Shield Challenge against Canterbury on August 28.

This year’s squad is missing the experienced Ralph Darling, who has retired, and Robbie Smith, who is unavailable. Lemi Masoe was “still being worked on”, Forrest said.

Loan players are allowed for the Ranfurly Shield challenge, but not for the other fixtures.

Young players such as Llew Johnson, Tupou Fifita, Jake Matthews and Ben Paton, who have impressed during the Citizens Shield, have the opportunity to prove they have what it takes. Next year’s Meads Cup was also in mind, Forrest said.

“We just want to see if these guys are up to the next level.

“At the end of the day, we were probably smaller than a lot of teams last year .. if we can put the right game plan in front of them they will go about their business.”

More additions to the squad could be made, as club form was assessed weekly.

“There is still the chance for other guys to put their hands up over the next few weeks. This is just our initial squad.”

The standard of club rugby had improved as the season had gone on, Forrest said.

“Initially I think players were a bit too excited.

“Teams are starting to play a lot of attacking rugby, which is great.

“I think the level is just going to rise over the next few weeks.”

The team will begin training on Wednesday nights ahead of a Friday night game against an Otago XV on August 21.

North Otago representative fixtures

  • August 21, 7pm: Otago XV v North Otago XV, Maheno
  • August 28, 2.05pm: Canterbury v North Otago (Ranfurly Shield challenge), Christchurch
  • September 5, 2.30pm: North Otago v Otago Country, Twizel
  • September 12, 2.30pm: North Otago v South Canterbury, Oamaru
  • September 19, 2.30pm: Mid Canterbury v North Otago, Mid Canterbury
  • September 26, 2.30pm: North Otago v Mid Canterbury, Oamaru
  • October 3, 2.30pm: South Canterbury v North Otago, Timaru

North Otago training squad

Junior Fakatoufifita, Cameron Rowland, Jake Greenslade, Sam Sturgess, Mathew Vocea, Ben Paton, Jake Matthews (Valley), Samuel Tatupu, Llew Johnson, Adam Johnson, Hayden Tisdall, Marcus Balchin, Josh Clark (Maheno), Robert Richardson, Jack Kelly, Sam MacDonald, Sione Kaufusi, Bailey Templeton (Kurow), Antonio Misiloi, Josh Phipps, Tarn Crow, Samuela Babiau, Taina Tamou (Excelsior), Jared Whitburn, Epineri Logavatu, Tupou Fifita (Athletic Marist), Kelepi Funaki, Manulua Taiti, Toni Taufa, Sione Kavatoe, Mataitini Feke (Old Boys)