On Tuesday, coach Adriaan Ferris unveiled the official Northland squad to contest this year's ITM Cup.



The talking point of Ferris' selection - see nearby - for many was the naming of dynamic centre Rene Ranger as a co-captain; an interesting role for the former All Black. While certainly popular among the fans, and widely regarded as an exceptional talent, it was also hard to overlook comments - which came to light after the recent high profile trial for assault of which the Wellsford player was eventually acquitted - that he was "a man of few words" which obviously raised questions about his ability to handle a leadership appointment.



Naturally, there was also plenty of interest further north over how many local boys would make the cut. There were some, albeit virtually all from the Bay of Islands including Jack Ram who played for Kerikeri this year, Cam Goodhue who grew up in Kawawaka, and Moerewa-bred Justin Davies. Awanui's Whiria Meltzer also features as Mangonui's sole representative but a long standing knee injury, although cleared by medics, does risk threatening his chances of gaining some serious real-gametime.



As it is, the squad has a random look with the majority being outside players. Ferris' main challenge will be to stitch these fragments into a cohesive whole. Helping the cause will be the distinctive new ITM Cup strip featuring the snarling profile of the team mascot, Tane the Taniwha.

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The Taniwha's national provincial championship (NPC) campaign begins with a road trip, when the side head to the mainland later this week to take on Otago - featuring a former Northland standout, Bronson Murray - in Dunedin on Saturday. The first home game for the Taniwha is on Wednesday, September 5, against Manawatu at 7.35pm.



The Northland Rugby Union (NRU) meanwhile, has actively been engaging supporters across the province to encourage them to get behind the side this year.



The union will provide free passes to anyone under 14 to all the home games, and in conjunction with another major sponsor, will also be putting on free supporters' buses from Kaitaia to Toll Stadium for two of the Taniwha's home games later in the season.



As well, a new video promoting Northland rugby pride made its premiere at a Kaitaia cafe last month. The first public showing of We are Northland was attended by a number of NRU executive and board, various local shareholders and business owners from the Far North. The video - a stirring piece of work designed by the NRU's marketing manager, Alastair McGinn - featured a strong Far North presence among its virtual cast of hundreds.



The main impetus was to re-ignite the pride and passion and support once enjoyed by the provincial team, re-engage the wider Northland public and retain momentum from the Rugby World Cup games played in Whangarei in October last year, said McGinn, adding the level of support for the home games could mean the difference between success and failure in this year' s ITM Cup competition.



"We need to get you to the stage in Whangarei. We have provided for two, three, four, five hundred children getting in for free to experience the [Toll Stadium] facility. But we require the buy-in from parents. We want to get this Northland back together. If we don't do something, this malaise of mediocrity will pervade forever," McGinn warned.



He also reminded that Northland rugby supported two charities for suicide awareness, and the prevention of violence in the family.


NORTHLAND ITM CUP SQUAD 2012
Ashley Moeke 1st five
Orene Ai'i 1st five
Derek Carpenter 2nd five
Rene Ranger (c) centre
Daniel Faleafa flanker
Daniel Pryor flanker
Jack Ram flanker
Tevita T-Pole flanker
William Whetton flanker
Faatoina Autagavaia fullback
Matthew Wright fullback
Rhyan Caine halfback
Samisoni Fisilau halfback
Sonatane Takulau halfback
David Hall hooker
Tone Kopelani hooker
Bryce Williams (c) lock
David Morgan lock
Jack Whetton (loan) lock
Eddie Paea midfield
Tuineau Fa'asisila midfield/

winger

Cameron Goodhue No.8
Justin Davies prop
Kapiolani Kaufusi prop
Mathew Wallis prop
Scott Vessey prop
Ross Wright prop/ hooker
Dan Caprice winger
Mateo Malupo winger
Whiria Meltzer winger