The national league off-season has featured plenty of movement between most of the teams, writes PETER JESSUP.
Tomorrow's rugby league clash between the Bears and the Tigers at Ericsson is expected to show more than the usual competitive grunt.
After the big run of Bears over the bridge to follow ex-Glenora coach Del Hughes to Northcote, both sides predict some extra intensity in the curtainraiser to the Warriors v St George game.
Niggle? "Absolutely," replied Hughes yesterday. "A few of the players are bound to take it harder."
He has snared Glenora's hooker Junior Fiu and star back Alan Lio, along with son Jonathan ("he didn't have to come"), Craig Buckingham, Aaron Tucker, Jock Nicholson and Ricky Henry.
"They didn't like what happened at Glenora last year, I asked them if they wanted to come over and they did," is Hughes' take on things.
Out West, they reckon he has been on the telephone most nights trying to snare talent.
But so has Glenora, who yesterday announced the last-minute signing of former Warriors half Ben Lythe ahead of interest from the Tigers, Hibiscus Coast and others.
Lythe's choice doubtless was swayed by previous affiliations as well as the size of his wallet.
While some clubs have been paying to buy in talent and experience like his, others, such as his old outfit Mt Albert, have refused to pay any individuals.
Bears player/coach Duane Mann has spoken to his side about trying to prove points tomorrow night and maintaining discipline.
"It gives us an extra focus in training. There's nothing wrong with being the best of enemies," he said, citing State of Origin and their "mate-against-mate" slogan.
Lythe goes straight into the Bears at halfback, despite training with Northcote. Veteran Steve Buckingham takes Fiu's spot.
The Bears' migration was not the only off-season move between teams.
The other big shift is Otahuhu general Hare te Rangi to the Eastern Tornadoes. His influence on Otahuhu's game was huge, so their loss and Eastern's gain could have a big impact on the final placings of the clubs.
The Manurewa Marlins have a stable side with classy backs, but may struggle up front, despite claiming more depth than last year.
Former Warriors trainer Trevor Clark has been running them since late last year and the squad is in superb shape as a result.
Their centre Joe Galuvao was said to be re-signing at the Warriors yesterday and will thus return to the Marlins when not wanted at Ericsson, and they also have Warrior development players Richard Utai and Channerith Ly.
The Marlins have picked up NZ students and Waikato centre Stu Hyslop, Frank Perez from Otahuhu, Ly's brother Channerath from Papatoetoe, and have asked for Warriors Mark Tookey and Kevin Campion should they suffer injury and need match-play to work back to fitness for the NRL.
Mt Albert have signed two talented young backs in brothers David and Fala Fa'alogo from Papatoetoe. Lee Finnerty has moved from Marist/Richmond and Langi Solomona is back from Townsville.
Three of last year's starters in Paea Kailea, John Vaigafa and Duane Bundock are playing in France and are not expected back until the end of next month.
John Ackland is an astute coach with plenty of talent-spotting experience, so the Lions are bound to contain hidden strength.
Hibiscus Coast coach Brian McLennan shares the job with former Mount coach Tony Benson this season and the pair believe the Raiders will benefit from the gym work they started last October.
"It was heart-breaking sometimes last year watching us score with skill, then having the other sides bash over from dummy-half, " McLennan said.
He was pleased that the Bartercard competition was following the NRL's switch from unlimited to a 12-from-four interchange.
The Ngongotaha Chiefs expect a fight on more fronts than one.
The Waikato rugby side are still making noises about ownership of the generic Chiefs. And coach Cameron Bell agreed only a month ago to do the job, so the Chiefs are well behind in selection and training.
It may show in the early games, against Canterbury this weekend, then Otahuhu.
The loss of goal-kicking fullback and former Warrior Doc Murray to parts unknown will not help.
Champions Canterbury retain the core of their winning squad. Coach Gerard Stokes is pleased with their only pre-season run, against the second-division Tasman Orcas, which resulted in a comfortable win.
In Wellington, the appointment of former Kiwi John Lomax as coach appears to have attracted some cross-town movement from Porirua.
Pumas coach Mata Matapuka was waiting for calls from senior players Chris Faifua and Willie Heather, but the pair apparently have walked to Wainui over a pay dispute.