Rugby: Massey face stern test in season opener

By Campbell Burnes

Premier action cranks into gear tomorrow and Massey will face a stern test at their Moire Park home from 2015 semifinalists Glenfield. Photo / Getty Images.
Premier action cranks into gear tomorrow and Massey will face a stern test at their Moire Park home from 2015 semifinalists Glenfield. Photo / Getty Images.

Massey are the hunted, as North Harbour defending club rugby champions, but the team itself does not see it that way.

Premier action cranks into gear tomorrow and Massey will face a stern test at their Moire Park home from 2015 semifinalists Glenfield, who will include the likes of Michael Little and Josh Rowland in their backline, and are again coached by Walter Little.

"It's a new year. We're defending nothing. We're just trying to win the championship, even though the group is much the same," says Massey coach Jarrod Framhein, who is going to be busy in 2016 as he is also the Massey High First XV coach and director of rugby.

"Glenfield is going to be tough. They had a good pre-season and recruited well. Our pre-season was a bit disjointed, a product of our success with guys away with 10s in Manila, the Blues or their wider training group."

But Massey will have the services tomorrow of centre Matt Vaega and lock Gerard Tuioti-Mariner, both released by the Blues.

This is offset by injuries to No 8 Hapakuki Moala-Liava'a and halfback Nalu Tuigamala and the absence of prop Adrian Smith at the Hong Kong 10s. But the likes of Harbour reps Chris Vui, Kima Iosua, Niko Ratumaitavuki and Ray Niuia will suit up, along with regular skipper and lock Ben Svenson.

Massey have also recruited well, with former Wanganui lock Andrew Slight joining the club and former Brumbies wider training group fullback Jerome Niumata returning home after several seasons across the Ditch. Loose forward Tain Lam, fresh from a stint with the Samoan Sevens, joins his brother Dylan Lam.

Framhein knows his side looks useful on paper but Massey's renowned depth will have to kick in when the attrition rate takes hold in the second round.

North Shore, the 2015 runners-up, will again be coached by Frano Botica, and will travel to Mahurangi. Shore have recruited former NZ Schools captain and 2015 Wairarapa-Bush loose forward So'otala Fa'aso'o.

Western Pioneers, another 2015 semifinalist looking to go one, if not two, better, host East Coast Bays in a match notable for the likely 200th premier appearance off the bench of veteran Bays front-rower Slade McFarland. Bays will be seeking their first semifinal appearance in several seasons under the coaching of former Harbour utility back Mark Beale, and will be defending the Les Pearce Memorial Shield in home games. Their backline looks sharp with the likes of Cory Aporo and Tua Saseve in midfield and Jona Tuitoga on the wing to complement Zak Judge and Irwin Finau in the pack.

Northcote's new coach is former Auckland and Waikato No 10 Brett Craies. They will travel to Takapuna, who have some interesting new recruits, among them first five Bryn Gatland, trying his luck up from Waikato.

Silverdale host Marist, who have coaching help from Anthony Boric.

The format has been tweaked, with bonus points now included in the first round, which is spilt into two pools before a full second round. Six teams will contest the playoffs.

*Thames Valley's Silcock Shield first round kicks off tomorrow afternoon with 2015 McClinchy Cup co-champions Mercury Bay hosting Paeroa West in Whitianga.

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