Long serving Te Puke Sports prop Matt Wallis has stepped up to take on the first team coaching role for 2018

Wallis replaces Craig Jeffries who has moved on to coach the King Country Rams.

The Baywide Premier competition begins on Saturday, and Wallis starts his first season in charge having to deal with injuries, defections and the challenge of finding the right formula to be both player and coach.

He has been with the Te Puke club since the mid 1990s and the ex Bay of Plenty Steamer also had a five or six season stint playing for Northland.

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''[Coaching] is something I was wanting to get into, but this is probably a year earlier than I would have liked. It's definitely a challenge, being a player as well,'' he says.

Wallis has held assistant roles with the Bay Development and Western Bay of Plenty men's teams.

''So basically, once my season's finished, I've been doing a bit of coaching but not in a head coaching role - just a forward specific coach. And [at the club] you have your input as a senior player.''

Among the players from 2017 who are missing as the 2018 season gets under way are Tim Bond, Alex Thrupp, Connor Woodman and Chulainn Mabbett-Sowerby as well as long term injury absentee Hayden Anderson.

Wallis' propping stocks have been particularly badly hit and the loss of John Corbett to a ruptured achilles tendon in a pre-season game against Fraser Tech has exacerbated the problem.

''We wanted to look at him playing prop because we were a bit short there. He was looking good in the game until that happened, so it's a bit of a bummer and now it's another guy you've got to go and find - so that's challenging.''

Wallis might now have to done the Pirates jersey more often than he thought.

''I was always intending to play, but probably not as much as what I'll have to now.''

Goal kicking full back Josh Robertson-Weepu will miss a chunk, if not all the season, and forwards Jared Bekhuis and Lars Morrice are both still on the injury comeback trail.

It's not surprising, then, that Willis is predicting a possible slow start to the season.

''In terms of results, the ultimate goal is always to win, but this year I think we are going to be a team that's a slow starter, but that builds momentum. That's what I'm hoping.

''We may not at all (be slow starters), but getting through that first month of the season is going to be a challenge.''

Te Puke's first game is away to Greerton on Saturday - the game kicks off at 2.45pm.

''We don't know anything about them at this stage, they're a new team as well, so we've got to spend most of our focus on what we want to do.

''We have a rough idea and know what Greerton have been good at and what they haven't been good at [in past seasons] and try and target that, but the main focus for the first month or so is to get our team learning our patterns and playing what we're training to do.''

■ In Division 1 Rangiuru also start their 2018 campaign on Saturday with a home game against Judea, kick off 2.45pm.