Rugby: Shane Neville stepping up as coaches loyal to locals

By Cameron Leslie

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Derren Witcombe says local players have a pathway to playing for the Taniwha. Photo/File
Derren Witcombe says local players have a pathway to playing for the Taniwha. Photo/File

Otamatea lock Shane Neville has been rewarded for a stellar year in 2013, being upgraded from the Northland B team to the ITM Cup squad.

Following last year's philosophy, Taniwha ITM Cup coaches Derren Witcombe and George Konia have gone local - selecting players who are from the region firstly, unless an outsider is significantly better than a Northlander.

Neville was announced as one of 22 players to have already committed to the Taniwha for this season, taking the spot of David Morgan who chose to turn down a contract and return home to the Waikato where he has picked up a contract.

Head coach Witcombe said Neville's promotion is case- in-point of the pathway to the Taniwha he and Konia have tried to establish.

"He's a lock that we're sort of looking for ... with [Tom] Murday and Bryce [Williams] the more aerial type, we're looking for a lock who can hit rucks and be a bit of a tough rooster," Witcombe said.

"Through our philosophy of using fully locals in the B competition, Shane Neville was player of the year [last year] so we thought there's still room for him to develop in the game. That's the pathway, and that's good for us.

"The philosophy is the same, play club rugby and you're in with a shot, anyone is up here."

Witcombe reinforced that he and his selectors would be hitting the sidelines of the Bayleys Southern Districts Premier competition in search of locals - particularly props, flankers, midfielders, and outside backs.

While the focus is on picking local talent, Witcombe said they were looking at bringing in a Super Rugby prop.

"We're going to need five props," he said, adding that three have already been locked in.

"[And] we're going to look to pick them from club rugby.

"One exception is we're chasing a Super Rugby tight head at the moment, we feel that it'd be a massive boost if we could secure a Super Rugby prop, we're being upfront and honest about that.

"Anyone we will pick out of the local arena will be way better in our opinion than what we've had here, and again we want to create a good development team as part of the pathway."

Loose forwards were proving a bit of a headache for Witcombe at this early stage of the season, with several contracted flankers carrying injuries.

He said Jack Ram won't be playing until July after having a knee reconstruction last year, Ben Berridge has stress fractures in his hips, and Owen Pihema's shoulder has bad nerve damage.

"It's wide open there and we'll be looking to club rugby."

Giving some life to an otherwise slow moving loose forward stock is the return of Cam Eyre from Scotland.

Witcombe said there was a possibility of contracting up to 35 players.

Northland:

Ross Wright, Justin Davies, WillGriff John, Matt Moulds, Robbie Abel, Tom Murday, Bryce Williams, Shane Neville, Dan Pryor, Jack Ram, Ben Berridge, Owen Pihema, Cam Eyre, Tane Takulua, Dan Hawkins, Latiume Fosita, Viliami Tahitua, Winston Stanley, Warren Dunn, Jone Macalai, Whiria Meltzer, Matt Wright.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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