We need to talk...about the start of the club rugby season
Little time is being wasted in adding a spark to Southland’s 2018 Division One competition with two competition heavyweights and fierce rivals to square-off in round one on Saturday.
Last year’s finalists, Edendale and Wyndham, will clash on Saturday at Wyndham, with Edendale winning last year’s final, Wyndham will be looking for revenge this weekend.
Many similar faces will return for both teams although there have also been some key personnel changes in both teams as they look to mount another shot at a title.
For Edendale one of the key changes is in the coaching staff where long-serving Southland club rugby coach Mike Cunningham returns to the club he first played for in 1981.
Cunningham carved out a lengthy playing career which mainly was at Edendale but included a short stint with Waikaka and two seasons with Albion.
Over the past 16 years, despite still living at Edendale, he travelled every Tuesday and Thursday night during the winter months to coach at trainings at various clubs
He has had stints coaching Woodlands, Excelsior, Blues, Midlands, and Menzies
Cunningham has now returned to Edendale where it all began.
In the playing stocks a couple of key losses are loose forwards Brad Whyte, who has returned to Star where he will play in the Premier competition, and Jimmy Sinclair who has finished playing because of a series of head knocks.
Devon McLeod is a new recruit and a player to keep an eye on after McLeod impressed playing for Southland under-18 last season.
Have also had a bit of reshuffling but will again be able to call on well-respected former Black Fern No 8 Casey Robertson to coach the team. This season she will be assisted by Casey McEwen.
Probably Wyndham’s biggest loss in the off season is dynamic back Nick Herbert who is out with a back injury.
They have also lost midfielder Sione Kaufononga who has joined Blues in the Premier ranks.
However, they still possess plenty of experience and key players which include the likes of Luke Caldwell at halfback and Mark Kingsbury in the forward pack.
One of the interesting aspects of the 2018 Division One competition will be just how Mossburn will handle the step up from the Division Two competition.
Mossburn won the Division Two competition last season 12 months after missing out on the playoffs in 2016.
They have managed to retain a bulk of their squad for a shot at playing in Division One and have also been bolstered with the addition of Ryan Carter who is returning to his home club.
Carter captained Woodlands last season in Southland’s premier competition and the young hooker was one of the best players in the competition.
Mossburn will open their season against Waiau Star with the Diane Chartres Memorial Trophy up for grabs.
Chartres was involved with both clubs, starting with Mossburn before linking with Waiau Star.
Are hoping for some better luck in 2018 after a horror season last year, in terms of injury, which included four broken legs in successive weeks.
That quest hasn’t started all that well with Jeremy Thomas suffering a season-ending cheek injury during preseason action.
Peter van Dam is one of those players who last season suffered a broken a leg and this year he will join club president Chris Norman as coaches.
Waiau Star has plenty of youth in their backline and has veteran Blayne de Vries to help point them in the right direction.
However, their depth might be tested upfront this season with numbers light.
They have lost key loose forward Tama Toomata who has returned to Star to play in the Premier grade ranks.
They have recruited some players from last year’s Central Southland College first XV, including Mahakai Rodgers who has previously played in the backline but is making a good fist of some opportunities playing in the loose forwards during the preseason.
Waiau Star played two Western-Banner fixtures in the off-season which included being pushed by Otautau in a 10-all draw before banking a win over Ohai-Nightcaps.
Will host Te Anau in their season opener on Saturday and will do so with a new coaching combination in place.
Phil Blatch and Gerard Tree, who have both played a lot for the club, will step in as coaches this season.
They will be assisted by former Southland loose forward Jeff Clearwater who has agreed to help Riversdale this season.
Clearwater has previously coached Southland B and Southland Country and is a Balfour stalwart.
As far as changes go from last season in the playing ranks Sam Sanson has hung up the boots, while blindside flanker Nathan Bokser has returned after an injury layoff.
Halfback Brendon Cairns has also joined Riversdale after transferring from Albion- Excelsior.
Will head into the 2018 season with a relatively young team but with enough talent that they are confident they can be more the competitive in the Division One competition this season.
Te Anau’s strength will probably centre on their forward pack with plenty of interest in how the 23-year- old Canadian loosehead prop Curtis Sentineal progresses through the season.
Sentineal has travelled to New Zealand this year to try to further his rugby and was initially set to play for Ponsonby in Auckland.
However, during a trip to Te Anau with friends, he came across Te Anau’s preseason game against Green Island and asked if they needed another player.
The Te Anau officials were impressed with what they saw and convinced the ambitious prop to stay in Te Anau and play his club rugby in Southland this year.
Dale Wairau will coach Te Anau this season while former King Country player John Morris has stepped in to help manage the team.
Morris, who is originally from Lumsden, moved to Te Anau a couple of months ago and has agreed to help the local rugby club.
Te Anau has had two preseason games where they lost to Green Island and Star.
Waikaka's backline stocks, in particular, have been bolstered for their 2018 Division One campaign.
Last year the eastern Southland club finished in the bottom four section of the competition but with some handy additions in the off-season will fancy their chances to push for a top-four playoff spot this year.
They have a new halfback-first five-eighth combination with first five-eighth Dylan Bungard transferring from Riversdale while Jake Coy has linked up with Waikaka at halfback.
Probably the biggest addition in the backline is outside back Hayden Stephens.
Stephens was exceptional for the Barbarians in Premier rugby last season and could pose a few headaches for opposition defences in the Division One competition.
Tom Medlicott will be back in the Waikaka backline this season and should be another key figure.
Upfront the likes of Tom Hewitson, Alex Peirce, and Jordie Bungard are expected to lead the way.
Waikaka, who this season will be coached by Will Orpwood, had three preseason hitouts which included wins over South Otago clubs Clinton and Heriot and loss to Southland Premier club Woodlands.
Have had a good offseason in terms of recruitment with the club picking up plenty of
promising young players.
Included is Southland under-19 fullback Henry Earland who looks to have a bright future while other additions include Chris Menzies, Callum Dean, Juan Kyle, Sam Wheely, Cody Oughton, Jack McGuire and Chris Tait.
The Winton-based club has lost wing Regan Wilson to Blues while impressive loose forward Logan Jones has moved to Dunedin.
However, with Tim Watt and Sam Brame still in the loose forward stocks, they are still well equipped there, while Ben McKercher will run the show at first five-eighth. Dayna Cunningham will coach Midlands with help from Mark Tree who has finished up playing.
Midlands had four preseason hitouts which were losses to Star and Clutha before recording big wins over Owaka and Bush Pirates.
DIVISION 2 & 3
The return of Mataura to the Division Three competition has been one of the highlights in the lead up to the 2018 Southland club rugby season.
Last season Mataura was unable to field a team in the Division Two or Three competitions with the club’s President’s grade team the only side flying the Mataura flag in terms of senior rugby in Southland last year.
It was a challenging time for the Mataura club which once was a force in Southland’s Premier grade.
However, during the offseason, Mataura club officials rallied and cast the net wide to try to pull together enough players to field a team in the Division Three competition.
Some local Mataura lads have returned from other clubs to help their home club while many of the young players from last season’s President’s grade team has stepped up to join the Division Three team.
Some older players have returned to fill the spots in the President’s grade left by those who have stepped up.
Well known Mataura brothers Brett and Paul Roberts will coach Mataura this season after lengthy stints lining up as players for Mataura.
Mataura’s Division Three team will have to bide their time as far as getting their season underway. They have drawn the bye in week one this Saturday.
Mataura joins Balfour-Lumsden, Ohai-Nightcaps, Bush Pirates, Otautau, Collegiate, and Bluff in what is expected to be a tough Division Three competition this season.
Otautau is shaping up as, potentially, the team to beat after some encouraging off-season recruiting and a good preseason build up.
Their ability was highlighted when Otautau drew 10-all with Division One team Waiau Star in a Western-Banner fixture.
Otautau will open their season on Saturday against Bush Pirates, Collegiate will play Bluff, and Balfour-Lumsden will take on Ohai-Nightcaps.
There has been some tweaking to Southland club rugby this season which will see Division Two split into A and B sections.
The B section will be made up of Premier grade reserve teams – Woodlands, Star, Blues, Marist and Pirates-Old Boys. They will be joined by the Wakatipu Wanderers to take it up to six teams.
The teams will follow their Premier teams with Wakatipu shadowing the Eastern-Northern Barbarians.
They will play through to June 7 before the top three teams join the top three teams from Division Two’s section A. The bottom three teams in the two sections will also link up for another round before semi-finals on July 21 and the final on July 28.
Section A will be made up of Drummond-Limehills- Star- who have dropped down from Division One – Pioneer, Albion-Excelsior, Riverton, Waikiwi, and Tokanui.
Round one Division Two games are: (Section A) DLS v Pioneer, Albion Excelsior v
Riverton, Waikiwi v Tokanui, (Section B) Marist v Blues, Wakatipu v Star, Woodlands
v Pirates-Old Boys.