Pikiao start their Bay of Plenty/Coastline premier rugby league title defence against the team they knocked out in the 2017 semifinals, Mangakino.

It is not often the defending champions start their first game of the season as underdogs, but that may be the case today for Pikiao who have not had the pre-season they were hoping for.

Coach Jason Parata said he had lost 14 players from last year's squad to a combination of work and family commitments, moving overseas and a couple of season-ending injuries.

"Scott Evans cut his foot with a chainsaw, they had to reattach the tendon and he's out for the season. Noel [Te Rangi] dislocated his shoulder and they fractured it putting back in, so he's in a sling for 12 weeks," Parata said.

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The players who remain from last year's squad will be expected to set an example while the situation gives some fresh faces the opportunity to impress.

"It's going to be a bit of a different year this year, but it's a good rebuilding for the club.

"There's a few young guys who will get an opportunity. We have to try and work around the strengths [of the players still there from last season] and hopefully it rubs off on the new guys," he said.

Meanwhile, if pre-season results are anything to go by, Mangakino look a force to be reckoned with. They were dominant in the Bay of Plenty Nines in February, finishing the tournament unbeaten to claim the title. They were also unbeaten in a pre-season tournament in Rotorua a fortnight ago.

"They'll be very tough, they've recruited well and they look like they've trained really well.

"With our rebuild I think everyone is a team to beat this year. I just want to see the boys play with a bit of commitment for each other, work for your brothers and in the end I think it will work out. The goal is to make top four."

Mangakino captain Johnson Peri scores in the Bay of Plenty Nines Tournament final. Photo / File
Mangakino captain Johnson Peri scores in the Bay of Plenty Nines Tournament final. Photo / File

Mangakino coach George Samuels said he was "saddened" to see some clubs struggling with numbers.

"We certainly won't be playing the same team we played last year, in terms of what Pikiao have got. We want to play teams at their strongest, we don't want easy wins. We'd rather the teams we play be in good shape.

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"We have a lot new players from last year, so this weekend I just want to see us gel and get some continuity in our play. We've got some really good players and we just need to pull it all together.

"It is early in the season and we're looking forward to it big time. Playing Pikiao can be pretty hostile, they've got a really passionate and enthusiastic crowd, as have we," Samuels said.

Meanwhile, Ngongotaha will look to bounce back from a disappointing 2017 against beaten finalists Pacific.

Pacific were seconds away from winning the competition last year, leading 8-6 in the final before Pikiao did the unthinkable, going the length of the field to snatch the win.

In the other game Taupo play Papamoa while Otumoetai have the bye.

Bay of Plenty/Coastline Premier Draw
Saturday. Kick-off 2.30pm

Pikiao v Mangakino at Puketawhero Park
Taupo v Papamoa at Hickling Park
Pacific v Ngongotaha at Memorial Park
Otumoetai, bye

Bay of Plenty/Coastline Premier Reserve Draw
Saturday. Kick-off 1pm

Pikiao v Tauhara at Puketawhero Park
Taupo v Papamoa at Hickling Park
Otumoetai v Putauaki at Mitchell Park
Pacific v Taneatua at Memorial Park