Rugby: Schuler happy with boost

By Ben Guild

Bay of Plenty Steamers coach Kevin Schuler says the signings of Solomona Sakalia and Tino Nemani are designed to bolster a squad weakened by a number of injury concerns and the departure of Japan-bound Lelia Masaga.

"It's good for us. Obviously Tino has been involved with Super Rugby with the Chiefs for a couple of years and we've known for a while that Lelia is heading away, so to be able to get another top level Super player on contract to replace Flash is good," said Schuler.

"It's pretty hard to replace a guy like Flash, but Tino certainly has some pretty awesome strike power.

"Solomona caused us all sorts of trouble last year and again he is under contract with the Chiefs set-up this year.

"We've got a bit of an injury cloud around some of our key props in Tristan Moran and Josh Hohneck, so it's great to have someone of proven ability from that top level coming into the squad in that position."

Schuler said it was mutually beneficial for the Chiefs and its provincial unions to work together to facilitate players plying their trade within their franchise area.

"The whole way they run their game over at the Chiefs is pretty impressive.

"Depending on how much game time they get they come back in different states of physical wear, but certainly you're getting good cattle and the Chiefs are as good as anyone, if not the best at the moment."

Schuler said most of the work in assembling the ITM Cup squad has been done. "We've filled about two-thirds, but this year we've changed the model quite a bit. Our goal this year is to have 35 fully contracted provincial union players."

Schuler said uncertainty surrounded Toby Arnold's return from a serious knee injury, and spots were also up for grabs in the midfield, at halfback, in the loose forwards, at lock and in the front row.

Players in the Premier Baywide competition have about six weeks to press their claims, with the ITM Cup squad to be finalised by early June ahead of the pre-season campaign.

The Steamers are looking to contract up to 10 additional players on development deals, bringing the total playing base up to 45 players.

Schuler said the broader contracting base - as opposed to the previous ITM Cup model that saw just 26 players signed - was crucial in building a sustainable model and successful development sides.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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