Galbraith Shield race gets underway
The race for the 2018 Galbraith Shield title is about to get underway as six teams look to be crowned Southland premier club rugby champions. We take a look at how each of the teams in the Go Bus Senior Rugby competition are shaping up before the first game kicks-off on March 27. Who are you picking?
Coaches: Mark Crosbie, Simon Frisby, Filimoni Tagicakibau
Key players: Micheal Peterson, Bill Fukofuka, Sam Winsloe, Jay Renton, Mitch Taylor.
Comings and goings: Blues have had a massive off-season, as far as recruitment goes, as the club looks to develop a team built around good young local players.
They’ve picked up a host of promising players including Ethan de Groot (prop), Ben Paulin (lock), Taine Te Whata (flanker), Regan Wilson (outside back), and Kalani Elder (midfield).
Other key additions include midfielders Andy Hamilton (Mossburn), Kelepi Holi (Star), and Sione Kaufonoga (Wyndham).
Forwards Jaya More and Connor Morrison have also transferred from the Barbarians, and halfback Taylor Barrett is returning to the province.
In regard to off-season losses, hooker Zek Sopoaga has returned to Wellington while lock Chris Menzies will play for Midlands this season.
Watch out for: Taine Te Whata. The Northern Southland lad has returned home signing with Rugby Southland after a successful stint playing for the Otago Boys’ High School first XV.
The young openside flanker is on the national radar after being included in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Barbarians team last year.
The lowdown: Blues have struggled in recent years in Southland’s premier competition failing to give the playoffs any real shake.
However, this offseason has been a golden one for the south Invercargill club. They have recruited a host of talented young players to build for what looks to be a much brighter future for Southland’s most successful club, in terms of all-time Galbraith Shield victories.
Many of the 13 new additions to the Blues premier team are part of the Rugby Southland academy system highlighting they have some talent to call on.
Blues also has the 2017 club player of the Bill Fukofuka back for another season in the blue-and-black jersey.
Coaches: Shaun Hurley & Greg Saunders
Key players: Billy Christie, Lachie McCall, Rory McCall, Scott McKee, Brenton Howden.
Comings and goings: The Eastern-Northern Barbarians have probably been the most affected it terms of losses during the preseason.
The Barbarians have lost five key players. Stags prop Morgan Mitchell has transferred to Star to play his club rugby, lock Mike McKee has made the move to Counties where he is playing for the Waiuku club, halfback Jahvis Wallace is in Christchurch playing for Burnside, while midfielders Lachie Moore and Conrad Quick are also missing.
Moore suffered a serious head knock at the end of last season. While he has been cleared to play, he has opted to take some time out of the game after two strong seasons with the Barbarians.
Quick also suffered a head knock playing for Southland B at the end of last season and is still struggling.
The losses have created a massive hole, but the country team has been able to bring in some youth in the form of Jake Lawlor, Ryan McCall, Caleb Young, and Rory van Vugt to help fill the void.
Watch out for: Rory van Vugt. The former South Otago High School pupil has been playing in Dunedin in recent years but has transferred south this year where he will play for the Barbarians.
The outside back, who is a former New Zealand touch representative, has already made an impression in Southland playing for the sevens team and during early session fitness testing.
The lowdown: There is no doubt the Barbarians have lost some firepower and experience during the off-season and there had been concerns around playing numbers in the lead up to the season.
However, the combined country team still possess a hard-nosed group of players, in particular up front, and will probably thrive with the underdog tag this season.
They pushed leading Dunedin club team University A right to the wire in a preseason hit out which suggests they are tracking better than some may think.
Coach: Marty Smith
Key players: Flynn Thomas, Shaun Stodart, Ben Fotheringham, Phil Halder, Lio Tosi, Scott Eade, Keanu Kahukura.
Comings and goings: Marist have retained the bulk of the team which last year claimed the Galbraith Shield.
A key loss is second five-eighth Matty Johnson who picked up a Super Rugby contract with the Blues but has since been ruled out because of a heart problem.
Prop George Tuineau has headed to Tasman in what is a blow for Marist. However, they do have propping depth with the likes of Shaun Stodart, Reuben Northover, and Kaydis Hona in the mix.
Irish lock Liam Gaffney will also not be back this season.
Will Murray has returned after a stint away and will add plenty to the backline stocks.
Watch out for: Jack Nally. The youngster continues on the proud Nally family tradition at the Marist club and is likely to play a big part in the Miller St club’s 2018 campaign after getting a taste last season.
He impressed in the Southland age-group ranks last season which prompted a call up to the Rugby Southland academy system.
Nally is best known as a loose forward but is expected to spend some time at lock in the absence of Ben Fotheringham who will possibly miss the opening stages of the season because of a knee injury.
The lowdown: Marist are defending Galbraith Shield champions and given the bulk of their squad have returned they will again go into the 2018 season as a leading contender.
They’ve got strength upfront, a good director at first five-eighth in Scott Eade, and enough in their outside backs to ask plenty of opposition defences.
Coach: David Hall
Key players: Anton Huisman, Wade McRae, Greg Dyer, Poasa Waqanibau, Mike Molloy.
Comings and goings: Pirates-Old Boys has been bolstered with the return of flanker Wade McRae who took a season off last year as he worked through concussion problems. Probably Pirates-Old Boys’ biggest loss is at halfback with Liam Howley transferring to Dunedin this year to play his club rugby. James Schrader is also unlikely to line up in Southland club rugby this season with him heading overseas, while Rob Peseta has been sidelined with a season-ending knee injury.
Former Fijian under-20 back Poasa Waqanibau is probably the most notable addition, while wing Sam McLachlan is another handy recruit joining Pirates-Old Boys after playing over 80 games for University A in Dunedin.
Another new addition from Dunedin is outside back Sala Halaleva, who has previously played for North Otago.
Promising prop Riki Rangi Kawe Gage has joined Pirates-Old Boys after leaving Southland Boys’ and his addition will offset the loss of Ethan de Groot who has joined Blues this season.
Other new additions to the Pirates-Old Boys premier team include Lachlan Wood, Jovan Aerenga, Mark Nanai, Hayden Hagerty, Corey Hoffman-Grey and Jacob Collins.
Watch out for: Poasa Waqanibau. Waqanibau was part of the Fijian Under-20 team at the Junior World Championship in 2014. The centre has since made a mark in New Zealand, firstly playing for Wanganui in the Heartland Championship before transferring to Canterbury where he has been part of their Mitre 10 Cup squad, although didn’t gain a lot of game time.
He has since transferred to Southland where he will line up for Pirates-Old Boys this season.
The lowdown: It was a challenging season for Pirates-Old Boys last year as injuries played havoc on their chances.
The Pirates-Old Boys management have worked hard to try to build their playing depth during the offseason and a matter of a week out they are still trying to build their backline stocks which is a bit light.
The hope will be they can stay relatively injury free this season and their key players up front can push them towards a playoff spot.
The strength will probably be in their loose forwards with the likes of McRae and Huisman to call on.
Coaches: Jason Harrison & Mark McHugh
Key players: Brayden Mitchell, Morgan Mitchell, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jack Capil, Brad Whyte, Hayden Edgley.
Comings and goings: Star have bolstered their stocks with the inclusion of lock Tom Capil, midfielder Josh Mason, outside back Ben Pope, and first five-eighth Kaleb Talamahina, who have all joined the club after leaving Southland Boys’ High School last season. Star have picked up the services of Stags prop Morgan Mitchell who has transferred from the Barbarians to play for Star this season.
No 8 Brad Whyte will also add plenty to the Star forward pack after returning from a couple of seasons playing for Edendale in the division one competition, as will Tama Toomata who has returned from Waiau Star.
Hayden Pope is also back in the mix for Star after a break away.
As far as losses go, Jordan Stewart is one of the biggest departures with the loose forward transferring to Manawatu to play, while his brother Jacob is having a season off. Fullback Junior Ngaluafe will also not be returning in another blow. Tepasu Thomas and George Phillip are others who will not be back for Star in 2018.
Watch out for: Kaleb Talamahina. Talamahina was a key figure in helping the Southland Boys’ High School first XV reach the national Top Four finals in the past two years. Talamahina, who has made a mark at both fullback and at first five-eighth, is part of the Rugby Southland Academy and there will be interest in how he makes the transition into the senior ranks this season.
The lowdown: Last year’s beaten finalists have assembled a squad for the 2018 season which should again make them one the leading title contenders this season.
Star have plenty of strength in the forward pack which includes four contracted Stags players from last year.
They have also injected some youth into the club with four players from last year’s SBHS 1st XV set to line up for the Star premier team.
Coach: Stu Brown
Key players: Joe Walsh, Ha’amea Ahio, Jason Rutledge, Nico Costa, Lewis Ormond, Tauasosi Tuimavave
Comings and goings: Woodlands have beefed up their front row stocks with well-regarded frontrowers Ha’amea Ahio and Jeremy Douglas shifting south to try to crack it in Southland.
New flanker Robbie McKenzie, who has played his recent rugby for University in Dunedin, has already impressed the folk out at Woodlands and they are expecting a big season from McKenzie.
Curtis Williams has joined Woodlands from Southland Boys’ adding another handy addition to the Woodlands loose forwards.
It has however in the backline where much of the recruiting has been done in the off-season which will include three Argentinian brothers – Ignacio, Nico, and Rodrigo Costa – linking with the club after shifting south from Auckland.
Nico, a halfback, made three appearances off the bench at the end of Auckland’s Mitre 10 Cup campaign and will be hoping to prove his worth for a shot in the Stags setup this year, as will his brothers.
As far as losses go, they are expected to be missing Ryan Carter, Tupou Sopoaga, and Jack Falloon, who were key players in 2017.
Watch out for: Ha’amea Ahio. Ahio played for Horowhenua-Kapiti on loan from Wellington in 2014 and 2015.
During the past couple of seasons, the prop has been knocking loudly on the door in Wellington but has managed just five games at Mitre 10 Cup level.
He made just one appearance off the bench in 2017 which ironically was against Southland in Invercargill. This year he is trying to crack the Stags set up.
The lowdown: While not having a wealth of depth in the forward stocks in general, Woodlands do have quality frontrow depth which should ensure they more than hold their own upfront this season.
The new additions they have picked up in the backline should also ensure they have enough points in them to again be a title contender in 2018.