Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

BOP Steamers ready for Taranaki Bulls

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TOP CLASS: Highlanders and Bay of Plenty halfback Te Aihe Toma in action against Auckland in last week's pre-season win. PHOTO/photosport
TOP CLASS: Highlanders and Bay of Plenty halfback Te Aihe Toma in action against Auckland in last week's pre-season win. PHOTO/photosport

Months of training and planning go on the line when the Bay of Plenty Steamers open their 2016 Mitre 10 Cup campaign against Taranaki at Tauranga Domain tomorrow from 2.35pm.

There was a definite edge to their major training run at Blake Park yesterday and a reassuring low error count that showed the focus was spot on for what is an important rugby occasion.

Drawing New Zealand's fourth best team last year first up, who the Steamers have not beaten since 2006, and a return to Tauranga Domain add extra intrigue to the match.

Steamers coach Clayton McMillan is happy overall with how the pre-season preparation has gone.

"You always want a little bit more time to get yourself organised but it is the nature of the competition that people come from club rugby, Super Rugby and overseas so things get a little congested," he said.

"We have had a look at the way Taranaki play and have taken that into consideration in our preparations but the first game is a real opportunity to go out there and make a statement."

The Steamers side features eight new caps in the starting line-up including Scottish international Hugh Blake, former New Zealand U20 representatives James O'Reilly and Henry Stowers, All Blacks Sevens squad member Isaac Te Aute and Chiefs squad member Monty Ioane.

"There are a few guys who will be playing their first game for the Bay and that's always special," McMillan said.

"So guys that performed well last year have been given the first lick of the cherry but they are also acutely aware there are some younger fullahs that are breathing down their neck.

"Moving forwards it is always going to be about performance so there is some pressure on them to step up.

"It will be a great experience to be playing it at the Tauranga Domain and hopefully we will get a bumper crowd along."

McMillan says he is "really happy with our squad" but would have liked less injuries to some key players.

"Teddy Stanaway, Joe Webber, Mitch Karpik and Jordan Lay are some heavy artillery that will play no part or limited part in our season. While it is unfortunate it just creates an opportunity for somebody else."

The Steamers will again be captained by lock Culum Retalick who is poised to become just the 17th player to play 100 games for the union.

The 32-year-old who made his debut in 2007 is on 92 games as the season kicks off tomorrow. He has turned down other opportunities to try and join coach McMillan in the centurion club.

"It is one of the reasons why I came back and I would be rapt to hopefully get it. Touch wood I don't get any injuries and I keep getting selected," Retallick said.

"It certainly is a goal for this year and it has been nearly 10 years effort and plenty of hours on the training field for sure."

Bay of Plenty team v TaranakiTauranga Domain, Saturday, 2.35pm.
1. Solomona Sakalia
2. James O'Reilly*
3. Siegfried Fisi'ihoi
4. Shahn Eru
5. Culum Retallick ©
6. Henry Stowers*
7. Hugh Blake*
8. Joe Tupe
9. Te Aihe Toma
10. Dan Hollinshead
11. Isaac Te Aute*
12. Terrence Hepetema
13. Lalakai Foketi
14. Monty Ioane*
15. Chase Tiatia
16. Liam Polwart*
17. Aidan Ross
18. Pingi Tala'apitaga
19. Keepa Mewett
20. Jesse Parete*
21. Luke Campbell*
22. Kelly Haimona
23. Te Rangi Fraser
*Denotes Steamers debut

- Bay of Plenty Times

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