Southland touch teams target junior nationals next week
Southland will be represented by three well-prepared teams at next week’s Touch New Zealand junior nationals.
The three-day tournament is being held at Rotorua Stadium and Ray Boord Park from February 8 to 10.
Here’s the low down on how the Southland teams are shaping up.
Number of teams competing in grade – 18
2018 placing – 15th
Lucy Hall, Madi Grieve, Tia Fowle, Jessica Lucy, Riley Ballantyne, Tessa Wright, Charlotte Anderson, Kayla Strong, Abby van der Straaten, Claudia Broomfield, Kennedy Taylor, Fairlayne Pennicott, Maddie Tinnock, Ella Wilson
A contingent of Southland’s best young female touch talent will head to Rotorua next weekend with the hope of upsetting some of their more fancied opponents in the under-16 girls’ grade. Confidence should not be an issue, the team includes a large number of under-15 players who picked up silver at the Southern IPS in Christchurch before Christmas, an outstanding effort considering the large majority are all eligible to play in the under-16 grade again next season.
The Junior Nationals squad also includes some experienced under-16 players who are returning after playing in last year’s national tournament. Also included are three up and coming under-14 players, Claudia Broomfield, Fairlayne Pennicott and Kennedy Taylor who will all be attending their first nationals.
Over the past month the team has been training hard under the guidance of coaches Dennis Thompson and Logan Tippett, and head into next weekend’s tournament in Rotorua as one of the fittest Southland squads to head away in recent memory.
That fitness will be crucial with 18 teams competing in the under-16 girls’ grade. This will see two pools of nine and include four games on both Friday and Saturday. Day one will see Southland take on provincial heavy weights Canterbury and Auckland, as well as a show down against last year’s champions, North Harbour.
Number of teams competing in grade – 12
2018 placing – 3rd
Kaea Nikora-Balloch, Lochie Earland, Max Milne, Keanu Panapa, Aidan O’Connell, Rico Muliaina, Charlie Carran, George Reedy, Garoth van der Straaten, Malakhai Kahukura, Drey Fonoti, Anika Moetaua, Ciska du Plessis, Anabelle Doherty, Sophie Hartmann, Tess Bryan
2018 saw the under-16 mixed side go within one game of making the final only to go down in the semi-final to Thames Valley and claim the bronze medal. The 2019 side will be aiming to repeat that performance and will be aided with the return of six players from last year’s team plus another two with nationals’ experience.
The draw has thrown up some interesting match ups for Southland, who take on South Island neighbours Canterbury and Nelson on day one, and north island sides Te Tai Tokerau, North Harbour and Thames Valley on day two. With only five matches across the first two days of the tournament there will be no room for a slow start for Southland. The team will look to the likes of Kaea Nikora-Balloch and Lochie Earland to lead the way, along with Anika Moetaua. The Wakatipu High School student is the most experienced player in terms of national tournaments, this being her third in as many years.
Also, in the squad are Rico Muliaina and Drey Fonoti who were part of the under-14 boys’ side that claimed silver at December’s Southern IPS. The duo has impressed at training in the build-up to next weekend and will be excited to get an opportunity on the national stage.
Number of teams competing in grade – 13
2018 placing – 10th
Aaliyah Talamahina, Kylah Talamahina, Kate Powell, Briar McKenzie, Geneva Andrews, McKenzie Galbraith, Jared Holland, Luke Hamilton, Thomas Wilcox, Josh Murrell, Jordy Smith, Kruz Carter, Thomas Clark, Sam Clark, Jack Keen
This is a grade Southland are very familiar with, having won back to back titles in 2016 and 2017. The 2019 version features a strong mix of players who went away to the 2018 tournament and are returning, as well as a handful of players who have graduated from the bronze medal winning under-16 team last year.
With seven teams in their pool, Southland will need to perform on day one against traditionally some of the best mixed teams in this grade. A big first day will see Southland take on Auckland, Thames Valley, Whanganui and Counties Manukau. Saturday will see just the two fixtures against Marlborough and Taranaki.
The team has plenty of ability and firepower and will be looking for consistency on both attack and defence to ensure they can progress deep into the tournament. Play makers Josh Murrell and Jordy Smith will be key to their chances, while the likes of Briar McKenzie and Jared Holland will look to provide the platform and solidarity on both sides of the ball.
Southland will also have a referee presence at the tournament, with Des Jonker, Richie Heap and John Eckhold all lining up with the whistle. For Eckhold it will be his first Junior Nationals tournament after attending the National Secondary Championships last December.
Touch New Zealand as well as Touch Southland will be providing updates throughout the weekend on Facebook so stay tuned to keep an eye out for how our Southland teams are progressing.