Bay of Plenty's Roller Mills rugby team is in the middle of preparations for this year's Northern Region tournament and among them is a trio of young Rotorua stars.
Rotorua Maroon players Te Rae Ki Moehau Watene, 12, Wiremu Brailey, 13, and Rotorua Gold player Te Wairua Āio Tumai, 12, will play in the Roller Mills tournament for Under-13 year old and Under 57kg boys, from Saturday, September 28 to Thursday, October 3.
At last year's tournament, the Bay of Plenty side was knocked out in the semifinals before going on to win the third-place playoff. Head coach Steve Miln is confident this year's squad has the potential to go one better and make the final.
"We've got a bit of a hybrid type selection this year and we've gone for kids who can play in various positions. What we've found at the tournament is you need to be able to sub and you need kids who can play two or three positions.
"We're pretty happy with what we've got. They're an intelligent bunch, they're picking up our structure and shape pretty well which is nice," Miln says.
Miln said the main attribute he looked for when selecting players was "good character" and all three Rotorua boys had shown it in spades.
"They're typical Rotorua boys and first of all they're good characters. I watched them throughout the [Tai Mitchell] tournament and they seem to be really good team players, they seemed up for the team cause.
"When you're putting together a Roller Mills team from all over the region it's important they knit together and they want to be part of that group, go forward as a group rather than individually.
"They've been in our environment for a few weeks now and they're fantastic. They're really good on the basics, all of them were very good around the ball carry, they're limited in their error rate, good defenders and really good athletes.
The squad is justifiably dominated by players from Tai Mitchell finalist team Te Puke and Tauranga West but Miln was happy to have players from all over the region.
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"The Tai Mitchell tournament is great, it's a tough tournament. Selection wise I try to see what athletes are and we've got a pretty good spread from the Tai Mitchell - eight out of the 10 teams are represented which I think is good."
Te Rae said he was "really excited" to be in the team.
"It will be challenging, learning a lot of new moves and getting used to new players.
He has played rugby since under-11s.
"One of my mates from school told me to come play. I like the feeling when you score a try, you get butterflies. I play flanker."
Wiremu said he was proud of himself for making the team because it had been a goal of his for a long time.
"It'll be pretty cool, tough competition. I play fullback and wing - my focus will be on being well positioned, being in the right place.
"I play for the fun of it and for my future. The big dream is being in the All Blacks - I have to train hard and be focused."
Te Wairua said he was happy and surprised to be in the team.
"I reckon it will be harder than Tai Mitchell. I need to focus. I've played rugby for four or five years, I just like playing rugby in general.
"I reckon we'll go good, the coaches are good."
2019 Bay of Plenty Roller Mills Squad
Te Rae Ki Moehau Watene
Te Wairua Āio Tumai
Head Coach: Steve Miln
Assistant Coaches: Phil O'Reilly and Mark Iman
Manager: Seamus Collins
Logistics: Aisea Tamani