Sevens: Harbour with whole new sevens squad

By Campbell Burnes

Josh Rowland is one of two ITM Cup players in North Harbour's sevens squad. Photo / photosport.nz
Josh Rowland is one of two ITM Cup players in North Harbour's sevens squad. Photo / photosport.nz

North Harbour have no players returning from last year's sevens nationals squad, but don't let that unduly concern you.

A combination of injuries, retirements and promotions in the 15s game mean that long-time North Harbour sevens coach Geoff Alley is calling on a mixture of seasoned players and raw young talent for this weekend's tournament in Rotorua.

The likes of Luke Hamilton have retired, 2015 skipper Kyle Nu'uali'itia is rehabbing from a shoulder operation, while fellow absentees Michael Little, Jordan Manihera and Chris Vui all made big strides in the 15s game, highlighting the positive developmental nature of sevens.

But two of North Harbour's 2015 ITM Cup squad are in this sevens squad - captain Josh Rowland, who has previously tasted the sevens nationals with Counties Manukau, and Dillon Wihongi, a late replacement for Theo Hermans, the original captain, who suffered a bad injury at the Bay of Plenty provincial tournament last weekend.

"It's quite a young team and an exciting one, but if we can keep our consistency, we'll do well," said Alley.

That consistency is still a work-on, after North Harbour placed fourth at last month's northern region qualifier and then reached the Bowl final last weekend.

"I was happy with the regionals. That's the reasoning as to why I have stuck with the same squad," Alley said. "We're fit, probably fitter than last year, just a bunch of good buggers, as we like to call ourselves, just hard workers. That'll win us sevens tournaments, hopefully."

Renata Roberts-Tenana will kick the goals and run the cutter. He is the son of former NZ Sevens star Karl Tenana.

"He's more of a playmaker than KT was. Ren has a good rugby brain and is very quick and elusive, so he'll be one to watch," said Alley. James Little, nephew of Walter Little, is another to keep an eye on. He played for the NZ Barbarians Schools in 2015 out of Takapuna Grammar.

"James was 17 when he played at the regionals and he was our player of the tournament. He's got a huge future," Alley said.

Then there are the likes of Callum Law, New Zealand Under 20 trialist Martin Brink and the experienced Jona Tuitoga.

North Harbour face Wanganui, Mid Canterbury and Counties Manukau in Pool C Saturday action. Two wins will be needed to progress to the Cup quarter-finals, which is uppermost in Alley's mind after winning the Bowl in 2014-15. He covets some different shaped silverware this weekend.

Alley's assistant coach is Frano Botica, who played eight sevens tournaments for New Zealand from 1985-88. This is Alley's last year, so Botica may be a viable succession option.

North Harbour 7s: Josh Rowland (c), Martin Brink, Benjamin Smith, Tua Saseve, Renata Robert-Tenana, Mike Lee, Jona Tuitoga, Callum Law, James Little, Whiria Meltzer, Dylan Lam, Dillon Wihongi

- NZ Herald

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