The new era for Steelform Wanganui starts at around 2pm today as they get on the bus for the long haul over to Napier.

Preparing for the first pre-season match against regular foe the Hawke's Bay Saracens - playing them at home after Cooks Gardens clashes in the last two years - this is really the first time where the absence of centenarian flanker and captain Peter Rowe will be truly felt.

While Rowe missed the odd game here and there over the previous 14 seasons, his mighty influence has remained on the squad until now - following his official retirement after the Ranfurly Shield clash with Canterbury in June.

Therefore, coach Jason Caskey must confirm heir apparents for those giant shoes, both in the loose forward department and the captaincy.


After two training sessions this week, the squad will have a camp at Cooks Gardens from 9am today, before heading off in the afternoon with the Wanganui Toyota Development players to arrive in Napier around dinner time.

Tomorrow will be "a little bit of light stuff, but nothing too serious" ahead of the Development squad facing Hawkes Bay Under 19 in the curtain raiser, before the main game at Napier Park.

Caskey confirmed some of the younger and fringe players in his 28-man squad are likely to be involved in both games.

"We've got two weeks to go, so don't want to stuff around.

"You don't want to be underdone, we won't be tinkering too much [outside the incumbents].

"I would much rather, if they're not starting, to get 30 minutes with the Development team.

"Then that can be up to 60 minutes [overall].

"You want to work closely during the season and Denis [Edwards] will use our guys."

Paramount for Caskey will be the flankers, with the experienced Jamie Hughes, Bryn Hudson and Tremaine Gilbert joined by youngsters Angus Middleton and Lake Ah Chong.

Previously, the veterans were able to tailor their style of play around being line-breakers and support players, secure in the knowledge the workhorse Rowe was there to do the bulk of the scrounging and securing.

Caskey now needs a back three on the scrum who will be able to cover that level of output.

"That's what we talk about, we want to get a good mix right.

"You lose a guy that's doing 80-90 things on the field, when the normal guys do maybe 40.

"It's demanding more out of those guys that are stronger ball carriers, that they pick their workrate up."

Two men who can also fill that void are Rowe's Ruapehu clubmates Campbell Hart and Fraser Hammond, but groin strain and a sore shoulder respectively will keep them away for this week.

Of the rest of the squad, Wanganui Collegiate's Cody Hemi has school commitments tomorrow, but in a spot of good news, fullback Nick Harding trained on Tuesday and will come back a Saturday earlier than expected.

The other piece of the Rowe puzzle is on-field leadership, and ironically the two candidates are also competing for the same jersey in hookers Cole Baldwin and Roman Tutauha.

Tutauha took over as the incumbent rake last season, while also being groomed for leadership with club captaincy of the experienced Ruapehu outfit and skippering the Whanganui Maori team.

However, with nearly 100 first class games to his credit, in the past two seasons Baldwin would both start and lead the team in matches where Rowe was injured, while he was in charge of the recent mid-season games including the Shield challenge.

Caskey has a current working plan that whomever is showing the best form or is the best fit for each specific opponent will take both the No2 shirt and the captaincy, with the other likely the vice-captain coming off the bench.

"It will be horses for courses.

"One of them's going to be on the field at all times, and it gives us the freedom at different times, and to build Roman up to it."

Saracens are likely to field a similar team to the squad that got hammered by the full Waikato NPC squad 57-7 in Taupo last Saturday, although that same squad beat Manawatu Evergreens 41-33 a month ago in Waipukurau.

There was some slight controversy last weekend when a couple of key players in the Hawkes Bay club rugby finals were pulled out of that match to join Saracens for the Waikato game.

Wanganui defeated Saracens 15-6 in 2015 and 41-19 last year when they were fresh off the Ranfurly Shield challenge to Waikato, with the home side categorised by having players of significantly more muscle mass and strength in the set piece.

"They're always quite big and I can't see that changing in a hurry," said Caskey.

Wanganui's final preseason game before the start of the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship is next week in Levin against Horowhenua-Kapiti in a Bruce Steel Memorial Cup defence.