Wairarapa-Bush coaches Mark Rutene and Paddy Gough have played it safe in the announcing of their Heartland championship pre-season rugby squad to play matches against Manawatu B and Poverty Bay at Memorial Park, Masterton, over the next two weekends.
Rather than name the usual 23 or 24 players Rutene and Gough have come up with 29, a clear sign they are still mulling over their Heartland line-up that will start their 2014 championship programme with a match against King Country at Taupo on August 23. And that form against Manawatu B and Poverty Bay will play a huge part in those deliberations.
There are several talking points in the extended squad, none more than the inclusion of five players who play their club rugby in Wellington, prop Finbarr Kerr-Newell, locks James Wall and Joe Beech, flanker Andrew McWhirter and utility back Ben Aoina. Kerr-Newell is no stranger to Wairarapa-Bush rugby, having been one of the big success stories of last year's Heartland campaign, while Beech had the one appearance. As a former member of the Wairarapa College first XV he has been selected as the "player of origin" in this year's side.
For Wall, Aoina and McWhirter it will be their debut season for Wairarapa-Bush. Wall and Aoina were listed as confirmed starters a couple of weeks ago, but McWhirter is a late inclusion. He has an impressive pedigree having played for New Zealand Universities, the Hurricanes development squad, Wellington B and Canterbury age group sides.
Five of the forwards come from the Carterton club and they include recent acquisitions in front rowers Ollie Terblanche and Eugene Gerrard and Thomas Fleming, a regular in the Wairarapa-Bush squad a couple of seasons back when he too played his club rugby in Wellington.
The forward selection also includes another recent arrival in Martinborough front rower Adam Johnson while lock Sam Marshall-Wilson has been given the nod too, although he has been sidelined through injury for some weeks and did not front when his club, Eketahuna, won the Tui Cup premier division grand final on Saturday.
Apart from Aoina the only players in the backline not to have played at Heartland level for Wairarapa-Bush are in-form Eketahuna duo Sam Monaghan and Robbie Anderson and Greytown midfielder Teihana Brown who is another recovering from injury.
There has been no confirmation as yet of who will captain Wairarapa-Bush this season with Kurt Simmonds and Monaghan being the main contenders. It would not surprise if they were asked to share the leadership duties.
The full Wairarapa-Bush squad is: Forwards: Finnbarr Kerr-Newell (Old Boys University, Wellington), Kurt Simmonds (Greytown), Ollie Terblanche (Carterton), Jacko Hull (Carterton), Richard Puddy (Gladstone), Eugene Gerrard (Carterton), Adam Johnson (Martinborough), Andrew McLean (Gladstone), James Wall (Hutt Old Boys Marist, Wellington), Sam Marshall-Wilson (Eketahuna), Joe Beech (Old Boys University, Wellington), Thomas Fleming (Carterton), Johnie McFadzean (Carterton), Rima Mururai (Pioneer).
Backs: Zeb Aporo (East Coast), Inia Katia (Gladstone), Joe Sio (Greytown), Sam Monaghan (Eketahuna), Ben Aiona (Upper Hutt), Byron Karaitiana (East Coast), Tapaga Isaac (Greytown), Michael Te Whare (Marist), Teihana Brown (Greytown), Robbie Anderson (Eketahuna), Paul Tikomainavalu (Eketahuna), Nathan Hunt (Martinborough), Cameron Hayton (Gladstone), Nick Olson (East Coast).