Homegrown players re-sign with Stags
Homegrown players Phil Halder and Morgan Mitchell will be back in maroon in 2018 with the pair signing on with the SIT Zero Fees Southland Stags for another Mitre 10 Cup campaign.
Halder and Mitchell have both progressed through the Southland age-group ranks and into the Stags.
Halder has played 19 games for the Stags with the 2017 campaign the flanker’s best in the Southland jersey to date.
The 24-year-old was named the Stags’ Most Improved Forward, Players’ Player of the Year, and Southland Supporter’s Club Player of the Year, at the end of last season.
Stags coach Dave Hewett was looking for a big 2018 from Halder, not just as a player but as a leader in the group.
“I was really keen to have him back with Southland. He is an abrasive player, but also his leadership is starting to be evident as well.
“He is becoming a leader within the team because it’s not just about having a captain, it is right throughout the group, so they can support the captain.’’
Halder was keen to help the Stags improve following a challenging 2017 season.
“I’m not going to lie, at the end of last year I was considering all options of pathways I could take but I decided I would struggle walking away from Southland rugby the way it finished last year.
“Personally, I need to leave it better than I found it,’’ Halder said.
Halder has already spent some time within the Highlanders set up training this year and is part of the Bravehearts team, the Highlanders’ second tier team.
“With him being called into the wider Highlanders squad, it is testament to the work he has done to improve his game,’’ Hewett said.
Mitchell, a tight-head prop, has played 31 games for Southland and Hewett was also looking forward to working with the 24-year-old to help him develop as a frontrower.
“We are looking for a big season from Morgan. Tight-head prop is a tough position, you are expected to make a lot of tackles and do the cleanout work as well as the carries.
“Morgan has been working really hard on his fitness at the start of the off-season and he is continuing to do so.
“Having the opportunity to play for the Bravehearts shows he is in a good space and he is being looked at by the next level up. That has got to be a good incentive for him to do well this year.’’
Mitchell was keen to prove himself during the build up to the season and as a result has been working hard.
“I want to show the coaches who I am and that I’m capable,” Mitchell said.
Hewett, a former All Black prop and Canterbury and Crusaders assistant coach, is in his first year as coach of the Stags. He said there was already plenty happening in terms of putting together a squad for this year’s Mitre 10 Cup.
Hewett already has a wider squad of players training together and they have cast the net right throughout the province to look at potential players.
Hewett has been pleased with the response.
“We have been doing a lot of investigating around local talent, so the boys are already working really hard.
“We’ve had testing in Invercargill with the premier teams and we also had a session out at Winton for the division one sides.
Players were nominated by their clubs to attend who they felt had the ability to play at Mitre 10 Cup level and they were tested against the standards of that level, Hewett said.
“There were some players who attended that wouldn’t have gained an understanding of performing at that level without the testing. There were also players in the testing group that may have gone under the radar without the opportunity to showcase themselves in that setting.’’
Hewett said realistically they would need to bring some players into the province to bolster the Stags stocks, but the plan was to have those players in Southland playing club rugby.
More Stags signings are expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks as the Stags management continue to piece together a squad for 2018.
Meanwhile, Southland’s premier club rugby competition begins on March 27 with the division one competition starting the following week.