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Big changes on club map

By Gary Caffell

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GOING PLACES: Wairarapa Bush rep Paul Tikomainavalu has transferred from Carterton to Eketahuna.PHOTOS/FILE
GOING PLACES: Wairarapa Bush rep Paul Tikomainavalu has transferred from Carterton to Eketahuna.PHOTOS/FILE

Mention Eketahuna's premier division rugby team and you tend to think of big, rugged forwards and backs content to play second fiddle to those doing the hard yards up front.

Well, it could be a whole lot different when the 2014 Wairarapa-Bush club season kicks off this Saturday.

Prospects are Eketahuna will field one of the most potent attacking backlines in the whole of the competition and, for once, if there are any questions marks over their ability to go all the way they will revolve around the ball-winning capabilities of their pack.

Gun loose forwards Johan Van Vliet, Rupeni Tamani and Joss Tua-Davidson and experienced middle rower Dan Griffin will all be missing when Eketahuna open their campaign against Carterton at Eketahuna.

Van Vliet is playing in the Netherlands and is not expected to return home until June-July, Tamani has headed to Waikato, Tua-Davidson is nursing a broken arm and will consequently miss most, if not all, the season and Griffin won't be on deck for at least a month.

Ordinarily the loss of such a high quality quartet would send any coach to the crying chamber but a couple of notable acquisitions has softened the blow for Eketahuna's Wayne Roache. Transferring from Bush Sports are Sam Marshall-Wilson, one of the big success stories for Wairarapa-Bush in their Heartland Championship campaign last season, and Hamish Walker and they will very probably both slot into loose forward roles. Hardy front rowers Brendan Walker, who has now played 300 games in the Eketahuna colours, and Adrian Lochhead are on deck again as is under-rated lock Dan Udy.

Former Canterbury representative Sam Monaghan will captain Eketahuna from the first-five position this season and word is he's keen to challenge for a place in the Wairarapa-Bush Heartland squad. A star member of that squad last season, centre-wing Paul Tikomainavalu, has joined Eketahuna from Carterton and Robbie Anderson, son of Eketahuna legend Graeme "Bunter" Anderson, and Englishman Dan White are other significant gains in the backs. Anderson is likely to be in midfield and White on the wing.

Roache is "very hopeful" of Eketahuna repeating their success of last season where they reached the Tui Cup final against Greytown, although he is quick to add if that happens he will be looking for a better result this time round, Greytown scoring a resounding 47-15 win on that occasion.

Greytown, for their part, are also confident of another bold showing in 2014. They have won the premier division title the past two seasons and coach Tony Lyford sees no reason why they can't achieve the hat-trick.

"We've got the majority of last year's team turning out again, plus some old heads returning and some younger guys stepping up ... it all looks good," he said.

Fortunately for Greytown the loss of livewire hooker PJ Freeman and Wairarapa-Bush No8 Nathan Iro up front has largely been covered by the return of Kurt Simmonds, who missed all last year through injury and Gareth van Dalen. Blindside flanker Chaz Matthews captained the Wairarapa College first XV last season and is a highly-rated youngster while it's a case of been there, done that for regular pack members Daniel Gilmore, Regan Pope, Kahn Fruean-Walker, Tana Isaac and Rihi Brown.

In Joseph Sio and Kingi Kaiwai Greytown have a proven inside back combination while there is plenty of attacking talent out wider, such as Tapaga Isaac, Teihana Brown and Tavita Isaac.

Meanwhile Ritchie Robertson, who coached Greytown to their Tui Cup success in 2012, and guided East Coast to the semifinals last season, won't be seen in a coaching role this season. Taking his place at East Coast is a former Wairarapa-Bush rep, Deon Mitchell.

To say East Coast will be fielding a new-look side this year is no exaggeration. Among those from last year's squad who will be missing this season are forwards Clarke Butcher, Tom Cobley, Sam Barbour and Tom Bowie, while Wairarapa-Bush lock Wiremu Grace is sidelined through injury. A mainstay of their backline, Hohepa Thompson, is also out, along with inside back Alex Gibson and wing Mick Morrison.

It's not all bad news for East Coast, though. With Joe Feast, Sully Alsop, Hayden Kerr, Henare Te Whare and Ben Holmes they have forwards who know what it takes to compete at the top club level and the same goes for backs Zeb Aporo, Nick Olson, Byron Karaitiana and Hemi Tupaea, all of whom are Wairarapa-Bush reps.

East Coast play Martinborough at Martinborough on Saturday while the other Tui Cup match has Gladstone hosting Pioneer.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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